For committing an act of pure decency, three black women are being ostracized by many other black people. • On the night of June 29, Delores Keen, Renee Roundtree and Rose Dodson rushed outside Keen's apartment after they heard gunshots. They discovered two Tampa police officers, David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, lying together on the ground. The officers had been shot. Dontae Morris, a 24-year-old black ex-convict, would be charged in the shootings.
Roundtree checked the officers' pulses, and Keen dialed 911. The three women stayed with the dying officers until others arrived. The Hillsborough County Commission honored the women for trying to help the officers.
Since their identities were made public, the woman have been criticized by fellow blacks almost everywhere they go, walking down the street, at local social clubs and in stores.
Their sin, considered by many to be perhaps the worst in American black culture, was helping "the enemy" — the police. You are guilty of helping the enemy in two main ways: You give the police, or another authority, information about a black person who has committed or is suspected of having committed a crime, which is "snitching." Or, as is the case with the three women, you physically aid and comfort police in distress, which is treated the same as snitching.
By trying to help the officers, Keen, Roundtree and Dodson showed, in the eyes of many, that they are not "authentically black." They are traitors to their race.
"I even had an ex-friend call and say, 'That was f----- up. You turned my boy in,' " Roundtree told the St. Petersburg Times of a response to her attempt to help the officers.
The snitching ethos, or code of silence, runs so deep that many blacks who snitch or assist morally struggle with their decisions. Many apologize, while others, having acted, offer history and background as to why blacks see the police as the enemy.
"I expected it," Dodson told the Times, rationalizing the criticism against her. "I don't want to say black folks, but I've got to say black folks — some have faith in the cops and some of them have been harassed for so long, been profiled, that they don't want nothing to do (with the police).
"When they hear someone was helping them, they wonder why. But they don't understand. They weren't in the situation. I don't believe anyone would have been so coldhearted that they would have walked away."
Dodson is being charitable in my estimation. The code of silence has coarsened black culture, especially in low-income communities, both rural and urban. It has created an acceptance of deception, divided loyalties, made pseudo-enemies, pitted neighbors against neighbors and turned criminals such as Dontae Morris into folk heroes.
One of the ugliest public displays of the snitching ethos occurred last year when Anderson Cooper interviewed rapper Cam'ron for 60 Minutes. Cooper asked Cam'ron what he would do if he knew he was living next door to a serial killer. Cam'ron said he would move away rather than snitch on the killer.
Law enforcement officials agree that the code of silence is the main reason they have not solved the murders of, among others, Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. and Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay.
In an article for New York magazine, writer Stanley Crouch, who has been condemned for advocating snitching, nicely summed up the lunacy of the code of silence: "The greatest threat to black life and limb is not the police; it's criminals in our community."
He is right. Black criminals victimize their own people. And we help them. If we do not call the police, we deserve the mayhem and dysfunction we suffer. When we conceal the identity of a murderer, we endanger everyone. When we turn our backs on drug deals near our homes, we cheapen the rule of law and destroy social values. In addition to its self-destructiveness, the snitching ethos alienates us from others, putting us at odds with normal behavior.
Would a decent person walk away and refuse to assist a mortally wounded fellow human being — a police officer? Would a decent person condemn someone for helping a police officer?
Blacks have only themselves to blame for giving other people good reasons to hold them in contempt. The code of silence is corrosive in every way.