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May 22, 2007

Stop Snitchin' Online

The Stop Snitchin' ethos has gone virtual. "There are three “rats of the week” on the home page of whosarat.com, a Web site devoted to exposing the identities of witnesses cooperating with the government," reports The New York Times. "The site posts their names and mug shots, along with court documents detailing what they have agreed to do in exchange for lenient sentences....The site says it has identified 4,300 informers and 400 undercover agents, many of them from documents obtained from court files available on the Internet. 'The reality is this,' said a spokesman for the site, who identified himself as Anthony Capone. 'Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale.'" But Capone does like paying customers. "For those who want to read the details on cooperating witnesses, whosarat.com charges between $7.99 for a week and $89.99 for life. The latter option comes with a free “Stop Snitching” T-shirt."

The government is, understandably, furious. "In one case...a witness in Philadelphia was moved and the F.B.I. was asked to investigate after material from whosarat.com was mailed to his neighbors and posted on utility poles and cars in the area." The government is using this as an excuse to seal all documents relating to plea bargains. The judiciary thinks that an overreach, and is pushing to simply hide those revealing cooperation. And us opportunistic political writers looking for a way to close this post may want to draw the straight line back to the drug war:

The site was started by Sean Bucci in 2004, after he was indicted in federal court in Boston on marijuana charges based on information from an informant. The site was initially modest and free, the seeming product of a drug defendant’s fit of pique.

From there, it expanded, grew, went collaborative, tucked itself behind a subscription wall, and became a resource that will probably result in violent reprisals and even death. Small price to pay to bust someone for smoking pot, right?

May 22, 2007 | Permalink


Eh, drug busts are most political. People who have others arrested on drugs are trying to enforce a political belief through law, so as far as I';m concerned they deserve retaliation in real life.

That's the problem with Drug laws, most of them are inherently unjust. Real crimes rarely spring out of political issues. For a law to be passed, there should be an overwhelming belief that it is just. In the case of drug laws, you have 60% of the population telling 40% that their lifestyle is evil and they should go to jail and be anally raped for it. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who rats on a drug charge is scum, and they deserve what they get.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 9:08:47 AM

so as far as I';m concerned they deserve retaliation in real life.

How nice. I doubt all the "snitches" outed on the site are involved in drug cases.

I also wonder if you draw a line between marijuana and meth. Should we have laws that regulate meth and punish those who make and sell it?

(I'm not in favor of prison time for users. Treatment for the addicted, but not prison.)

Posted by: Stephen | May 22, 2007 9:22:17 AM

"People who have others arrested on drugs are trying to enforce a political belief through law, so as far as I'm concerned they deserve retaliation in real life."

How 'bout: "Niggers who insist on voting are trying to enforce a political belief through law, so as far as I'm concerned they deserve retaliation in real life." Nothin' like a little vigilante justice to enforce one's personal opinions, eh Soullite?

Posted by: James Gary | May 22, 2007 9:35:18 AM

Plea bargaining is the evil of the justice system. It is done for expediency and the convenience of law enforcement and little else.
The end result is it pressures innocent people to plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit and it allows people who have committed crimes to be charged with lesser crimes and have less punishment if any at all.
Without plea bargaining, the state would have to actually have proof that someone is guilty.....an amazing concept!!

As far as the racial epithet above, does putting quotes around the word make it OK? Or is it just OK for liberals and blacks to use, but not OK for others to use? I'm confused.

Posted by: Fred Jones | May 22, 2007 9:54:01 AM

The War on Drugs is perverting America the way alcohol prohibition did. Unfortunately right now I can see no way out. It would require a President of tremendous manhood to try and remove that stone around the Nation's neck.

Err Fred, if James is making a pro drug enforcement statment wouldn't that be conservative instead of liberal? In which case it is a conservative using racial epithets. But really must you see left right divisions in every thing under the sun? What's next the fresh produce section is liberal and the dairy section is conservative? Peanut butter is liberal (remember Carter) but Jam is conservative, etc ....
Soullite made an over the top claim to righteous violence, and James called him out on it by using an over the top example to illustrate weakness of the argument. Very common stuff.

How long have you been reading the intertubes?

Posted by: Northern Observer | May 22, 2007 10:27:03 AM

I strongly suspect that this sort of information would have become availible in a very similar way regardless of whether or not this specific person took the first steps toward it. I don't think that you can make a credible case that this sort of technology would not exist if it wasn't for those horrible drug laws.

I think that there are a whole lot of really interesting moral, legal, and ethical questions that this sort of thing raises, putting into conflict our desires for a free exchange of information and an open society with the obvious need to provide individuals who cooperate with law enforcement with safety. Sadly, the segue into drug legalization doesn't promote thoughtful commentary on the issue.

Posted by: Dave Justus | May 22, 2007 10:47:28 AM

Yeah, Fred's right: No using the N-word, not even satirically.

Posted by: Ezra | May 22, 2007 10:51:50 AM

I'm disturbed by the end Ezra's post and by most of your comments. This "stop snitching" movement, via web or otherwise, is an unusually brazen declaration of war against the law. To the extent that it succeeds, it will make law less unenforceable, to the point where situations like http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/nyregion/01witness.html?ex=1330405200&en=0a1e4a33f9d08d6a&ei=5088 are more typical of the U.S. than they are now.

Veering off this point into grievances about drug policy or anything else about the unjustness of a particular prosection are harmful in a very ironic way. Yes, let's work against injustices, but what good is that if you accept the undermining of law itself with equanimity?

Ezra, did you perhaps let an unwise final word obscure some more benign thrust of your post?

Posted by: PT&S | May 22, 2007 10:56:49 AM

Stephen, I doubt it too. But that's the problem with unjust laws. They don't only discredit themselves, they discredit the idea of law in general. Because Nixon thought it was a brilliant idea to lock up his political enemies for using a plant he didn't like, obedience to law has been on a steady decline. That's because when law ceases to be about protecting a populace, and starts being about protecting the powerful, the great majority knows it and acts like it.

And no, you'll never solve injustice unless it hurts you too. So no, let's not work on the things you care about and ignore the things I care about. I'm not an idiot, and I'm not going to fall for that weak an argument.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 11:13:38 AM

northern, righteous violence? I never said violence at all. I mean they should suffer a severe social stigma, at least. violence is an individual thing, and I won't begrudge a guy who got raped in prison because his neighbor didn't like something he did his vengeance. You're the type of person who thinks it's okay to shit on the weak, yet you think it's an atrocity when the weak strike back. That's your issue, not mine.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 11:16:17 AM

As for James, the holes in his logic speak for themselves. There is an obvious difference between using law to enhance democracy, and using law to punish those that lose at the voting box. His failure to understand that is willful.

As for his use of words, it was only the intellectual dishonesty of his argument that makes it disgusting. Refusing to acknowledge what certain people think when they see a black man doesn't remove it's reality. It's the thought that's disgusting, that someone is less than human because of their skin color. His false equivalences prove he understands that the thought he was describing was wrong. He was simply seeking to tar what I said with that evil.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 11:20:51 AM

The "victims" of snitching porbably aren't ordinary joes smoking a joint now and again, turned in by their their neighbors. More likely, the ordinary joe is the "snitch."

The cops arrest your for minor possession, and you're offered probabtion if you help them catch the dealer who sold it to you. Or maybe the "snitch" is the low man in the organization. In The Wire, the "snitch" is Wallace; the "victim" is Avon.

Posted by: McGarnigle | May 22, 2007 11:28:49 AM

PT&S - in what way do you read Ezra's post, even the last sentence, as supporting this "stop snitchin" stuff? To my eyes, he was obviously against it, and the last sentence was sarcastic.

In any case, I'm with you in that this seems a really bad trend if it continues to grow. I mean, I'm happy to go on record saying that most drug laws (particularly marijuana) should be repealed, along with prostitution laws and a few other things. But going after "snitchers" is no way to do that. It just makes you even more of a criminal, as far as I'm concerned.

Some laws are bad and need to go - so that's what people's energy should be focused on. Not on revenge and vigilantism.

Posted by: Adam | May 22, 2007 11:36:07 AM

I love that I'm apparently an evil bastard for explaining to you exactly why this "stop snitchin" belief is so widespread. It's because normal Americans view their government's police forces as the enemy. That's because they've primarily been waging political war against us for decades now. Before it was drugs, ti was union busting and prohibition. Increasingly, it's our right to protest. You want people to respect the law? Make laws that are respectable. Stop cops from shooting unarmed bridegrooms and 90 year old women. Actually hold them accountable when they step over the line. Stop arresting people over what are, at their base, political disagreements. Stop criminalizing every action that Americans take so that they can be arrested on trumped up charges everytime someone doesn't like you.

Until you do that, law will only be respected less and less. Actual political activism is too costly for most Americans. They don't have the money to protect them from constant police harassment, or to litigate endless false arrests. Expecting them to "fight ot change the law" in a system that will punish them severely for doing so (such an action would result in most Americans being fired and jailed) is a shell game, and I know it.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 11:38:35 AM

It sticks in my throat to say it but:

Fred's completely right. On the N-word, and on plea bargains. (Though I'd only go with dumping plea bargains if you could have a qualified majority conviction for criminal cases: say 10-2, like in the UK.)

Posted by: Sock Puppet of the Great Satan | May 22, 2007 11:41:16 AM

Soullite, I don't think you're evil, just hideously misguided. Selling drugs isn't a political persuasion. It isn't even the expression of a political persuasion. As stupid as drug laws are, and as drug prohibition is, you have no right to break the law. There is no honor in it.

There is no honor is threatening people who want the law followed and enforced with violence. I'm not convinced that the people targeted by "stop snitchin'" are people who are plea bargaining themselves out of jail time. Surely they include people like Angela Dawson, who repeatedly contacted the police about the drug dealing and crime around her home in Baltimore, not because she was some sort of Puritan or even because it was hurting her property values, but because living around drug dealers is dangerous, because people had repeatedly vandalized her home, because she was threatened. For her trouble, her home was firebombed and she and her husband and five children were all killed.

But I guess she was scum and deserved what she got, huh?

As unjust as the law is, the law isn't going to become just because following the law becomes dangerous. More than that, it isn't going to change. The stop snitchin' campaign is convincing exactly nobody in a position of power to change sentencing guidelines, to consider decriminalization, to do anything that will improve things. It only encourages more draconian enforcement and gives police less incentive to obey the law themselves. Its popularity only goes to show that people are foolish and that it is easy to appeal to their resentment and anger.

Posted by: alex | May 22, 2007 12:40:55 PM

How is this website not considered to be witness tampering under 18 U.S.C. §1512(b) or §1512(d) and corresponding state laws?

Posted by: Kenneth Fair | May 22, 2007 12:45:54 PM

Stop cops from shooting unarmed bridegrooms and 90 year old women. Actually hold them accountable when they step over the line.

Well, you know, the cops involved in the Sean Bell shooting (the "unarmed bridegroom" you refer to) have been indicted. And the cops involved in the Kathryn Johnston shooting (the "90 year old woman" you refer to, I assume) were charged by both the feds and state and have pled guilty to manslaughter and civil rights charges that will put them in jail for 10-12 years.

Posted by: Glenn | May 22, 2007 2:12:47 PM

Who does and doesn't qualify as a "snitch" is not cut and dried at this point. Some people who have very strongly spoken out against snitching have drawn a distinction between cooperating with police investigations as a regular witness and doing so as part of a plea bargain: the grandmother who calls the police to complain about drug dealers on her block is not snitching, but the low-level career criminal who gets collared and avoids a sentence by flipping a higher-up is. And then others consider any cooperation with the police snitching. Any argument about the merits of the "stop snitching" campaign needs to make clear which definition is being used.

Posted by: tps12 | May 22, 2007 2:32:17 PM

Thanks for this post. I had been clueless about the "stop snitching" campaign; it had just seemed evil to me. This gives me a way to understand it.

As a mom, I can tell you it's almost impossible to keep teens from disobeying rules they think are stupid. It's exactly the same as trying to convince a husband to shut doors he really prefers open.

And it goes straight to the heart of democracy. When you reach a tipping point of injustice (or even just laws that a substantial minority or majority disagree with), and at the same time you've got ideals of justice, and you've got a certain amount of transparency and widespread understanding and education — then you've got trouble. It cries out for reform — of the drug laws, of course, but also reform of disparities, beginning with health care.

Posted by: Kristen Hannum | May 22, 2007 2:51:15 PM

I really don't understand this. What about, say, Andrew Fastow? His "snitchin" is what put Jeff Skilling and Kenny Boy behind bars (well, Kenny Boy would have been behind bars). Isn't that a good thing? Or should someone have taken ol' Andrew out for rattin', so that Skilling and Lay, the real crooks, could go free? This site is just fucked up, period.

Posted by: Glenn | May 22, 2007 2:52:43 PM

And by "this site" I mean, whosarat, not Ezra's blog. Of course.

Posted by: Glenn | May 22, 2007 2:54:32 PM

Glenn, those cops won't be convicted and we both know that. If it looks like they will, they'll get a change of venue that would never have been granted to normal criminals.Besides, it's the fact that the murders happened in the first place that the problem. The police think they can get away with murder because 9 times out of 10, they do.

most of you appear to purposefully misreading what I've stated. You can argue with me until you're blue in the face, the things I'm saying are true. You can't stand aghast at the effects of this problem while discounting it's causes. You wonder why people don't take the law seriously, I told you. Not everyone has the same issues I do. I mentioned drugs because Klein did, not because it's my pet issue. I'm not hideously misguided. I'm stating human nature. You can complain about it all you want, it won't change the fact that years of criminalizing non-dangerous behavior have taken a severe toll on peoples ability to respect the law. You want obedience for obedience sake, but that's not how authority works. It has to be viewed as legitimate, and increasingly, outside of the elite who can afford to pay for the lawyers required to achieve justice, Americans do not view the process as legitimate. Drugs are an example, I could have just easily used the "no hanging things off your review mirror" rule that's used to boost ticket numbers, it's not really any one thing that does it for all people. It's the totality of it, the pointless rules meant to instill obedience rather than protect, the casual disrespect the police use when treating MOST people; even those that called them in the first place. Even if innocent, the average American has a lot to fear from the police.

Don't tell me I'm wrong. As far as I can tell, nobody else seems to have any real suggestion as to what causes this. At least I'll explore why I feel something to attempt an understanding. The rest of you don't seem to feel this way at all, what makes you think you can understand it? Navel-gazing is a waste of the time for the most part, but when it comes to understanding human nature you best start with understanding yourself.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 3:04:37 PM

Wow, soullite, you sure have read a lot into my comment, stuff that's not even remotely there. Ah, but then, you apparently have some special wisdom and comprehensive skills that us mere mortals lack, so who knows, maybe you're right, and I did say all those things, I just didn't know it. Thanks, soullite!

Posted by: Glenn | May 22, 2007 3:12:20 PM

thank you Kristen, that's essentially the heart of the issue. People need to respect the law, but that respect can not be commanded. Respect for the law has to come from the nature of the law itself. It's far from a novel idea, it's just one that doesn't get discussed as often as it should.

Posted by: soullite | May 22, 2007 3:15:10 PM

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