Commentary: End ‘no-snitch’ culture for sake of community
By Martin G. Reynolds, Editor, The Oakland Tribune
THE CULTURE of anti-snitching has reached a new low. It has now even embroiled a well-known African-American businessman and his important institution, The Oakland Post. Earlier this month the Oakland Tribune ran stories about a plot to have Post Publisher Paul Cobb set up and killed. A witness to the Aug. 2 slaying of Post editor Chauncey Bailey, who had befriended the editor because he said Bailey was kind to him, said he was approached by two men he knew from his days with the now-defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery. The two men offered him a few thousand dollars to lure Cobb someplace to be killed.After getting information he was a target, Cobb did what any sane person would do: He let the appropriate authorities know.A story in the Oakland Tribune on Jan. 18 outlined the events, as well as how Cobb dealt with trying to run a business while fearing for his safety and the safety of his wife and family.
Then, the fallout came from certain corners of the community.
Word on the street has it that there are some in the black community, of which I am a part, who criticized Cobb for working with authorities. Cobb is a businessman, an African-American businessman, who owns a group of publications with a unique and special relationship to the community — a community made up of some who have a historically touchy relationship with police. Well, that said, I don’t know how you can be black in America and not have a touchy relationship with police.
Since the first African American-owned-and-operated newspaper — Freedom’s Journal — was established in 1827 in New York City, the black press in this country has continued to serve a vital role. It has provided and continues to provide an alternative voice and perspective often not conveyed or portrayed in the mainstream press. It is this legacy that affords the Oakland Post a connection to people and information the Oakland Tribune would be hard-pressed to access.
Cobb has been under incredible stress since Bailey’s killing, with previously documented threats not long after the Aug. 2 shooting, and increased security at the Post office. Under this constant cloud, how could anyone consider his cooperating with police to be a betrayal?
Cobb is not to be criticized. He is to be commended for having the courage to stand up.
I would have done the same.
His life has been threatened, and about this he should be silent?
Should he be content to adhere to the misguided notion all police are bad, and no matter what, and certainly if you’re African American, you should not cooperate with them?
Are some in our society so twisted they would question the actions of a prominent community figure for doing whatever he can to protect himself, his business and his family?
Let’s be frank. If Cobb were a white businessman who had received similar threats and called police, would anyone anywhere question his allegiance? No. It’s because some black folk of a certain generation and mindset have adopted the no-snitch code.
In their view, even if your life is threatened or someone you know is hurt or killed, you should appear tough and remain silent — maybe even retaliate yourself. The people who criticize Cobb are the same folks who believe it is better to remain silent than to cooperate with an investigation. They have become citizens of the “stop snitchin'” nation, a region occupied by some from within hip-hop culture, I am sad to say. As a member of the hip-hop community when not newspapering, I can speak on this mentality from experience.
It used to be “snitchin'” had to do with keeping your mouth shut if you were the one caught doing a crime. Now it has evolved and includes not cooperating with police under any circumstance. A witness — or as I like to call them — a responsible member of the community, has become a snitch in the eyes of some. How many homicides in Oakland could be solved and closure brought to families, if people stood up? I understand there are complex social layers draped over much of this, but at some point, when do we stand up and say, enough is enough?
In hindsight, the Tribune might have reported the story using more discretion for Cobb’s sake; and for that I take responsibility. I was under the misguided notion nobody could possibly question the motives of a man concerned for his life. Clearly, I was wrong.
For their part, it is unfortunate the police have established such a legacy of distrust and mistreatment that some in need of help would rather risk their lives than turn toward an institution that is supposed to protect and serve.
The highly charged and publicized “Riders” police misconduct case comes to mind, in which Oakland police officers were charged on more than two dozen criminal counts, including kidnapping, beating of falsely arrested suspects and submitting falsified police reports.
The accused officers in the “Riders” case were never convicted. But the Oakland Police Department undertook a multimillion-dollar reform effort, and the city’s insurance company paid out $10.9 million to 119 plaintiffs and their attorneys to settle a civil rights lawsuit related to the misconduct case.
But by then, convictions or not, the damage was done. The perception of abuse — real or unproven — was once again fully reinforced in the minds of many in the community. The no cooperation, “don’t snitch” code yet again re-emphasized for all.
There are no winners in this horrible situation. But one thing is for sure, Cobb and his family should be given all the support and protection they need. The Post continues to be published and the legacy of its service to the community built upon. Show Cobb the respect he deserves and continue to support this vital community institution.
Martin G. Reynolds is the editor of the Oakland Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com or 510-208-6433.