Last week, like many other people, I was thrilled to see rapper Takashi 6ix9ine spend three days in a courtroom in New York City singing like a canary and telling the court (and the world) about the various people who were involved in the 9 Trey Bloods gang that he had affiliated with (although never been initiated to) in a futile attempt to gain clout as a gangsta rapper. Seeing him talking about the gang-banging tendencies of fellow up and comers like Trippie Redd as well as retired rappers like Jim Jones in exchange for a lessening of his 47-year sentence for various other crimes that he had already pled to led quite naturally for his court testimony to become a goldmine for memes about all of the snitching he did. Equally unsurprising was the condemnation he faced for being a “rat” in the eyes of fellow rappers and concerns about his life outside of prison when those he told on would presumably seek vengeance for his betrayal of codes of silence and when he tried to resurrect his rap career. What I would like to do is somewhat unusual and rare, though, and that is make a defense for the snitch.
The snitch is in bad need of defense. Yet let us ponder what leads to the existence of the snitch in the first place. In order for there to be a snitch, there needs to be the existence of behavior that is contrary to the law that thrives on secrecy and conspiracy, as well as the desire on the part of authorities to expose those deeds to the light. It should be admitted that there are times where such conspiracies are rightly celebrated, such as the existence of the samizdat in Soviet times. But for the most part, the sort of conspiracies that are protected by anti-snitch codes of threatened violence for breaking the omerta are not very appealing. We have the corrupt mafia and their human and drug trafficking and violence against others, urban gangs involved in the same behavior, athletes running steroid rings in search of success through cheating, and the like. With rare exceptions, the sorts of behavior that is protected through codes of silence is bad behavior which deserves to be brought to the light and punished.
And in this light, it is hardly surprising that authorities would seek to engage deals with vulnerable members of such underworlds to tell on their cohorts in exchange of a better deal for themselves. It is not as if the authorities have any love for such informers themselves, and may even hold them in contempt. But the relationship between the authorities and informers is a relationship of convenience between prosecutors who desire a good reputation for being tough on crime and criminals who desire not to pay the time for crimes that they have charged or convicted of. At times governments have even been known to actively seek out conspiracies and blow their cover through the use of secret agents. One does not have to approve of the behavior of Tudor England, Soviet Russia, or contemporary states like Thailand and the United States to recognize that there is good reason for these government to seek informers about underworlds containing hostile dissidents and corrupt criminal syndicates. We do not necessarily have to approve of the corruption of such details to recognize that there is mutual benefit to both parties involved and thus a high degree of frequency of such deals.
What are snitches doing wrong? They are using their knowledge of behavior that is generally illegal and certainly not to be approved of in order to better their own position when it comes to the understandable and predictable consequences of being involved in such behavior. To the extent that authorities deserve to be disobeyed, the proper response to having others tell on one’s behavior is to take one’s lumps bravely and to consider it as a noble example of martyrdom in some fashion. To the extent that one is involved in wrong behavior, though, one deserves punishment for it. If some people have the tactical skill of being able to avoid deserved punishment through serving the social good of trying to reduce crime, who are we to blame them? The obvious defense of the snitch’s behavior is that if one has nothing to hide one has nothing to fear.
The larger concern is the selectiveness of encouraging snitches. To the extent that we encourage snitching only of our enemies while attacking those who would inform on us, we demonstrate a double standard when it comes to snitching, supporting only selective and tactical snitching. We need an overall defense of snitching and its legitimacy if we are going to expect to disinfect the moldy darkness that is all around us in our contemporary world. Sometimes people are going to snitch on those that we may support for various tactical reasons or consider the least of the evils. Sometimes reputations will be harmed after people leave office when their corruption is revealed. That is the way life goes. We live in a world where corruption is rife, and many of us are understandably cynical about a great many of the institutions where corrupt people have entrenched themselves. But let us not forget that the only way that such corruption is to be overcome is to have those who are good in competence as well as morality in positions of honor and respect and authority. In the meantime, shining a light into the dark corners of our societies and their institutions is likely to show a lot of cockroaches scurrying around. If some of those cockroaches show where the others are hiding, who are we to condemn them?