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“Granddad, Stop Snitchin’!” said little Riley Freeman as Granddad protested the arrest of his marijuana grower. For Riley, not snitchin’ and reppin’ the streets is what separates the real n*ggas from the fake n*ggas. Riley’s dilemma, to snitch or not to snitch, finally came to a head in the Boondocks episode “Thank You for Not Snitching” in which Riley chose not to rat out Ed and Rummy when they stole Granddad’s car.

It’s not difficult to understand why many in the African-American community loathe informants, those casually derided as rats, narcs, and turncoats. When it came to light a few days ago that famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers was an FBI informant, Julian Bond, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee , said “I grew up in a political culture in which an informant — somebody who told on his friends — was the lowest form of life.”

In the 1960’s, becoming an informant was the equivalent of selling out a movement. During the civil rights revolution, members understood that if the seeds they were planting had any chance of sprouting and reconstructing a world free of racist tyranny, it must be done in secret.

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Since then, selling out someone inside your community and turning them over to those outside your community has morphed into an act akin to treachery. During the civil rights movement, not snitching was part of an overall strategy, but the aversion to snitching later became an element of the African-American collective code of conduct.

Today, “stop snitching” campaigns have lead to a form of tribalism whereby African-American communities forfeit their right to police protection in favor of a tenacious defiance to authority. Our nostalgic impulse whereby we look to the past for our moral bearings is only reinforced by the number of police officers who exploit the very communities which they’re paid to serve, often treating urban communities as their own personal playgrounds. The so-called God complex to which so many police officers are pre-disposed is resurrected each time a dirty cop brandishes a badge.

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