'No Snitching' Is Unspoken Rule on City Streets

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Tio Hardiman of the Chicago community group Ceasefire, which works to stop street violence, describes the growing popularity of the "no snitching" rule with the gang members he works with.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

And now we turn to Tio Hardiman. He is with a program in Chicago called Ceasefire, which works with community members to stop violence on the streets. He has seen firsthand why people are afraid of being labeled a snitch. And he joins us from NPR's Chicago bureau.

Mr. Hardiman, welcome.

Mr. TIO HARDIMAN (Director, Gang Mediation, Ceasefire): Yeah, I'm glad to be here.

CORLEY: Well, tell us what's going on. Are people scared, and is this kind of a street cred thing?

Mr. HARDIMAN: Yes, it's the code of the streets out here, and I can best sum it up to what Tupac once said. He said a lot of times, people in America look at the communities like the, you know, impoverished communities or a so-called ghetto areas from a distance and say it's kind of dangerous there. But the people that live in the communities are also scared, because they live next door to the perpetrators of the violence.

CORLEY: You heard, though, what Paula Dow said, the prosecutor from New Jersey. Sounds like she's in a pretty tough spot trying to prosecute people and protect people. What's the alternative?

Mr. HARDIMAN: You see, first of all, a lot of the young brothers and sisters on the streets, they don't trust the prosecutors. They don't trust law enforcement. So what happens is it's just hard, because the kids or the young people have to go right back to the neighborhood. And there's been many stories here in Chicago where people have told. Don't get me wrong, people are telling every day, but there's - it's like an unwritten rule here in the Midwest. On the East Coast, they pretty much glamorize it and they - like they had the T-shirts they were wearing.

CORLEY: Yes.

Mr. HARDIMAN: And they were putting flyers out. In the Midwest, you can in the paper all the time, you arrest 40 people, 38 other people turn on him, okay? And that's happening in Chicago for some reason. It's happened time and time again. And there was a guy in Chicago off the west side who turned on like 27 people by wearing a wire, and he's still walking the streets today. So it's happening in some situations, I guess it's just - it depends on who you are, okay, and where you come from what you believe in.

CORLEY: So you're saying that people are, quote, "snitching," or taking responsibility to protect their community?

Mr. HARDIMAN: Some people are doing it, but, you know, the thing is the majority people will not do it. I remember one time, I was at a court proceeding and I noticed a guy had to testify for another guy that he killed his brother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARDIMAN: You know, strangely to say. You know, this guy testified for -and he loved his brother.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARDIMAN: All right, so it's just difficult because the people don't have the resources to move out of the community. And far as the witness protection programs, the people are frightened in the community because a lot of times, they may not get you, but they might get your mother, your brother or your sister.

And the guy that I mentioned, you know, he did it because he just didn't really care because his mentality is like, look, I'm in the streets, too, so if you guys approach me, I'm going to do what I have to do. So he wasn't really worried about it in that particular case. All right?

CORLEY: Well, what do you think would make people feel safe to come forward? Paula Dow talked a lot about the witness protection and things like that. Are there are other things that have to happen, though?

Mr. HARDIMAN: Well, you know, at Ceasefire, what we're doing is trying to preventive violence on the front end. And we - over the last three years, we've mediated about 900 conflicts, some of them were fights we broke up, some of them were retaliations that we prevented and shootings on the front end. If we can get the violence down, then the people will have a newfound feeling of, you know, like safety and security. And that's what the people need.

And you need to really rally the community and mobilize - for example, you got 10,000 people coming out whenever an act of violence is committed, and if they keep coming out on a consistent basis, then people will get the message because you have to kind of support the people. And the people on the communities don't feel they have the support if they were to step forward.

CORLEY: Mr. Hardiman, one last question. You talked about it a little bit about the t-shirts...

Mr. HARDIMAN: Yeah.

CORLEY: ...that people are distributing or have distributed in some areas. Some hip-hop performers have publicly encouraged people to stop snitching. Do you think they're doing the right thing?

Mr. HARDIMAN: Well, not necessarily, because what happens - they're speaking from a standpoint of just trying to sell records and trying to keep their names afloat in what is like negative in a community. Five hip-hop rappers, most of them guys, if they made a lot of money, they live in gated communities. And if you look at their track record, some of them guys might have told on somebody themselves, okay?

CORLEY: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARDIMAN: And that's just being real with you, but at the same time, we have to understand the element in which we're dealing with, and the brothers and sisters in the - deeply rooted in the communities, they can't come forward. They've just - it's a code of the streets, and then they feel they're going to be pretty much retaliated on.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And you were saying that the way to, perhaps, stop this is for there to be more communities rallying around the idea of coming forward.

Mr. HARDIMAN: Well, there's a major disconnect with the youth and some of the older people in this communities. So yeah, the older people are going to have to try to reconnect with the youth so they can begin to trust them and feel that they have their backs.

CORLEY: So how do you do that? How do you get that trust going? How does that happen?

Mr. HARDIMAN: Well, it's going to take a lot of dialogue. For example, I have about 10 ministers on the west side here in Chicago, and they've opened their doors up to the young brothers on the streets. And we have dialogue sessions every Friday like from nine to 11 p.m., or from seven to nine p.m. And so we're gaining trust and we're gaining - we're building relationships and we open up for dialogue. You know, it's like universal communication.

CORLEY: Tio Hardiman is director of Crisis Mediation at Ceasefire, an anti-violence program in Chicago. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. HARDIMAN: Thank you.

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