Snitching: Criminal Informants And The Erosion Of American Justice, by Alexandra Natapoff
What aspects of snitching create the most problems for ordinary Americans? That is a hard question to answer, and it seems as if there is a body of literature that is designed to discuss the nefarious effects of snitching on popular culture to the point where it has helped to decrease the trust that exists between people and government as a whole, and not only in minority communities. To the extent that government depends on shady and untrustworthy people to give them information and where the possibility that people are to be framed and manipulated for the interests of corrupt authorities and corrupt underworld figures, then it is clear that the justice system is not going to have legitimacy with the general public at all, or at least decreasing legitimacy as these practices continue and exacerbate. It appears that until recently, though, few people were focused on bringing the dependence of the government on snitches and other unpleasant truths were brought to life and this book certainly does a good job in focusing on snitching as it relates to the culture of trusties and corrupt dealing that threatens some aspects of the prison system of the United States to become akin to the horrors of the Gulag Archipelago.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it is divided into eight chapters. After acknowledgements and an introduction which shows the focus of this book on street justice as it relates to snitching, the author discusses understanding snitching through looking at informant deals and the implications of such practices (1). After this there is a look at the legal rules of snitching (2). This leads the author to comment on the unreliability of snitches (3), the secret justice that results from the lack of transparency involved in snitching (4), and the tension that results from urban communities and the police as a result of its use in the community (5). The author then takes a detour into the cultural importance of the “stop snitching” movement and what it meant (6) as well as a discussion about cooperation and informants as they relate to white collar crime (7), including a discussion about the snitch visa that one can gain by snitching on terrorism. Finally, the book ends with a chapter that discusses various ways that the criminal justice system can be reformed insofar as it depends on snitching (8) and then a conclusion about the problem of democracy as it relates to criminal justice, after which there are notes, an index, and information about the author.
This book does a good job at pointing out the context in which snitching has thrived in the contemporary legal system. By separating out snitching from all sorts of informant use, the author discusses the social costs of the practice as well as some reform practices that would make it less problematic, and potentially also less ubiquitous, which could only be a good thing. The use of snitches as a foundation of criminal law suggests a lack of interest in justice and a greater dependence on spycraft and surveillance, which suggests a declining trust and understanding between governors and governed. This can only have poisonous and toxic results in a nation where the legitimacy of government and its behavior depends on the consent of the governed. Without that consent, and without trust between rulers and ruled, America as as constitutional republic cannot be preserved. It is with these serious concerns that this book reflects on the divisions that exist within the United States thanks at least in part because of the toxic combination of interest between authorities looking to increase their power, especially in certain neighborhoods, and the interests of corrupt people willing to give them information for a price.