CHICAGO — Chicago’s top cop wants a cast of celebrities — Derrick Rose, Common and Michael Jordan, among others — to help police combat the “no-snitch” code of silence that protects shooters from prosecution and keeps killers on the street.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told DNAinfo.com Chicago that he plans to launch a public service campaign this year to “redefine snitching” in an effort to encourage more witnesses, and even shooting victims, to cooperate with police.
Over the last two decades the definition of a snitch — or being a rat, squealer or fink — has evolved to mean anyone who cooperates with authorities.
“What we’re saying is if you are a victim or a witness to a crime you are not a snitch,” McCarthy said. “The problem is people have a fear, and rightfully so. But we have to go after this problem. It’s preventing us from being where we want to be” when it comes to solving shootings.
It’s not just a Chicago problem.
Rick Frei, a psychology professor at Community College of Philadelphia, has studied how people in violent neighborhoods define snitching for five years. He testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on crime and drugs in 2010.
“In research we found the word ‘snitch’ has been hijacked. We use the word for everything now,” he said. “There’s a hesitancy to cooperate with police because you get a reputation that you can’t be trusted.”
McCarthy said he hopes to start a conversation about why there's a difference between telling police who shot an innocent kid and ratting out your partner in crime.
“If you and I commit a crime together, and I get caught and say you were with me, I’m a snitch. That’s snitching,” McCarthy said. “That’s honor among thieves, which we know doesn’t exist because criminals give each other up. But now we’re in a position where shooting victims and shooting witnesses don’t give up the shooters. And that strikes me that something is backwards there.”
And he knows it will take more than a top cop or politician to get the intended audience — kids and young adults living in violent neighborhoods — to take it seriously.
“Will people listen to Garry McCarthy? Or will they listen to Derrick Rose?” he said. “I think D-Rose, coming out of Englewood and being one of the biggest superstars in the NBA, is the type of person that can help us.”
While McCarthy’s not ready to say which celebrities have signed up to help, he’s got his eye on big names that “these kids are going to listen to” including Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, Chicago-native rapper Common, Michael Jordan and Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, among others.
It’s going to take more than an advertising campaign to make a real difference, according to people who know about these things.
Andrew Papachristos, a Yale sociologist and noted expert on gangs in Chicago, said there’s a need to rebuild a perception that police treat people unfairly — especially in violent neighborhoods where there’s a lot of “legal cynicism.”
While most people believe in the “law with a capital L,” there’s often a distrust of the “agents that enforce it,” said Papachristos, whose study of Chicago gangbangers, “Why Do Criminals Obey The Law,” was published by the Journal of Criminology and Criminal Law in December.
“That cynicism gets reinforced by no-snitch.”
McCarthy said his “walk and chew gum strategy” of focusing on cops walking the beat — and a revamped community policing program tailored to each district set to be unveiled at a news conference Tuesday — will help rebuild trust in the department.
“The return to the beat officer and having everything else to support it … gang enforcement task forces and other ancillary units, such as narcotics, is designed to overcome no-snitching, if you will, through the reduction of legal cynicism by getting to know people,” McCarthy said. “If [the same officers] are not in the community every day, they don’t know the good kids and the bad kids. If we’re going to get to know the difference we have to be there every day.”