Page 109 of “Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style (Studies in Crime and Public Policy)”, a novel written by Criminologist Letizia Paoli, quotes that the concept of Omerta implies “the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime.” Omerta, “the code of silence”, translated by the Oxford English Dictionary to mean the word hombredad, or manliness, isn’t just a practice: It is largely a form of solidarity against law enforcement. There exist similar codes among Black, Jewish, Irish, and other criminal subcultures, but they all translate to one absolute meaning: Keep your mouth shut. In every criminal circle, the consequences of “snitching”, cooperating directly or indirectly with law enforcement, are always death. An “Honor amongst thieves,” as they say, and even, and especially, if these same thieves happen to be enemies. But is there truly an “honor amongst thieves”? Depends who you ask. Specifically, because snitches share a very specific trait with an otherwise “stand-up” criminal: Selfishness.
I will not answer if snitching is good or bad, but I do find it interesting how the tenets of loyalty and trust are emphasized within a circle of men who are professional thieves and liars, who seem to not understand that they have been betrayed, not by the man, but, by the principles of selfishness that govern and finance the lifestyle of a criminal. In common cases such as a marriage, friendship, partnership, etc.., once the idea enters in a person’s mind to grant themselves the permission of exclusive or of lop-sided benefit, then that relationship is fundamentally doomed. So, is it a stretch of the imagination that snitches, who are criminals, would reinforce the same ideals to preserve themselves?
– Frank Lucas, notorious Harlem drug dealer, whose claims of smuggling heroin in cadavers and coffins, as depicted in the movie, American Gangster, have been exposed as lies by the DEA and his own Southeast Asian connection Lesley “Ike” Atkinson, Lucas proudly declared “I never testified on nobody.” However, in an article for Today magazine, January 17th, 2008, former DEA agent Jack Toal states “He never talked about a dirty cop or a DEA agent. He never gave up anybody like that. It was 100 percent drug dealers.”
– Nicky Barnes, famed former Harlem heroin trafficker, made the decision to cooperate with law enforcement after his ex-wife, various girlfriends and associates robbed his money while he was incarcerated for drug charges.
– Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, former Underboss of the Lucchese Crime Family who admitted to 36 murders and killed people he merely suspected of being snitches, in most cases, simply out of his own paranoia, became an informant to spare himself from prosecution.
– Albert “Alpo” Martinez, the infamous former Harlem and Washington D.C., drug dealer and murderer and one of many inspirations for the movie, Paid in Full, became a snitch to avoid the death penalty.
Before a decision there is always a reason, which may or may not align with what comes after the decision: The explanation. These explanations come in the form of revenge fantasies or desperate maneuvers to avoid consequence, as the examples of these men have shown. What is interesting is how these explanations are usually never based on moral reasons. What is disturbing about snitching is what is a lack of the overall point: The refusal to take personal responsibility. This is very important and the foundation of what we consider when we ask ourselves what betrayal truly means.
Consider other examples of betrayal. A man commits a crime: He cheats on his wife and is found out. Much like a trial, a plea is entered, evidence is presented and examined, and the plea of the defense can be revisited in lieu of the proceedings of the prosecution. The accused is offered a plea agreement to avoid a harsher prosecution and is granted the chance to remain in the relationship but with restrictions, unless his denials persist a battle toward innocence based entirely on stubbornness and embarrassment, which will absolutely terminate the relationship. Morality is the point when the evidence is overwhelming and absolute. “Why?” she asks. She, his woman, wants him purely to take responsibility for his actions, and their relationship is dependent upon his ability or inability to do so. Snitching, or betrayal, genuinely speaking, doesn’t solve problems, it just creates new solutions. Cheating is betrayal. Morality is the distinction between right and wrong. If the decision to snitch were based on moral reasons then the result would be to avoid the crime in the first place and to not find an illegal solution, just as, morally, if the relationship were failing then the response should have been to address the issues or to discontinue the relationship entirely, not to create a new sexual or emotional solution. The concern is never the pain that they’ve caused in the crimes they’ve committed, considering the fact that the confession comes in and with a fear of consequence. Selfishness is a great deterrent of responsibility, which is what is so viscerally offensive in these situations because human beings fundamentally understand the distinction between right and wrong. In short, if you did the crime, then accept the punishment. But with that, often times, comes another series of solutions.
Snitches are guided by the selfishness that is apparent in us all, a selfishness that can drive itself entirely on the good fortune from bad desires until the misdeeds are discovered and exposed. Most people, and snitches, uphold the tenets of doing what it is right until the golden rule is no longer beneficial to our perverse and self-serving bottom line. Snitches pledge an oath to honor, love and to remain loyal to a code and rules they’ve sworn to uphold, just as your average person makes these same pledges to their loved ones and significant others only to abandon these promises because it satisfies their own selfish result. Everything is based invariably on a decision, and accepting responsibility is a decision just as avoiding responsibility is a decision. Morality is what should stop us from betraying others, until new rules enter the equation that eliminate the declarations that we make to each other. Frank Lucas, Nicky Barnes, Anthony Casso and Albert Martinez are men that have spent a life avoiding morality. There were no compunctions about distributing the drugs that ruin lives and communities or committing and financing violence and murders, so why are we surprised that there are no exceptions to the rule? Selfishness is like the person that is drowning and blindly grabs at everyone there to help with no regard of who they pull under with them. You take your best shots at the closest targets, which happen to be friends and family.
Maybe snitches represent the worst part of ourselves, and maybe we, society, are all guilty of betraying each other to some degree to further our own selfish causes. We lie to each other, we manipulate and deceive each other, and we only confess once there is evidence and we’re coerced into our decision to come clean, or until our lies become sterile and we exhaust ourselves into surrendering. We need to learn to accept that about ourselves. With snitches, there is no “us versus them,” it is a weakness we’ve all inherited as human beings. So, if snitches get stitches, then what about the rest of us?
Brandon Perkins is a Hip-hop Artist and Guitarist, creatively known as Priest. He regularly tours Europe and the world, and has done shows with Jay Electronica, REKS, Mr. Cheeks, Edo G., Slaine, and many more.