The Witness Project Asks: What is Snitching?

In February, when we launched The Witness Project our goal was to learn more about the reasons why many Clevelanders who witness crimes – like shootings – don’t cooperate with police. In other words: Why the Streets Don’t Speak.

  • Learn more about the Witness Project here.

Our goal was to get beyond assumptions and judgements, so we set out to interview as many people as we could, often during our weekly meetings at the WOVU 95.9 FM station on Kinsman Road or in schools or community spaces.

A lot has changed since then. The coronavirus pandemic put our project and our lives on pause. And the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited a wave of protests countrywide that punctuated distrust between law enforcement and Black and Brown communities that had simmered, and sparked a nationwide conversation about whether police departments should continue to exist as they do today.

But the virus and the uprisings – they haven’t stopped the shootings. On July 4th alone Cleveland police responded to at least 20 shootings including three men who were killed.

Back in February, which seems so long ago now, as we started to interview people, one word came up almost every time: snitching.

Sometimes it was “snitches get stitches” and other times it was “no snitchin.”

When we went deeper, though, we realized that the word had different meanings to different people. For instance, for some people, any sort of “tattling” fits the definition. Others told us that snitches were folks who turn in other people to save their own butts, more like police informants. “There’s good snitching and bad snitching,” Rachel Hill, a radio personality said.

Our sources also raised important questions about whether the conversation – and our exploration – of snitching should revolve only around street violence, or also extend to police silence about the actions of their brothers and sisters in blue or, perhaps, white collar crime.

We decided to start by narrowing in on the word, aiming to get a better definition of snitching and our Witness Project collaborator Edward “Phatty” Banks, founder of Reading R.A.M.M., took on the assignment.

  • See more Reading R.A.M.M. videos here.

With his camera rolling, Banks posed a series of questions about snitching to children and adults, students and principals.

Starting today, and over the next six weeks, we’ll run the videos he produced based on his conversations.

In our first installment, their answers to a simple question: “What is Snitching?”

Want to share your thoughts on what snitching means? Share on our Facebook Page or on Twitter or Instagram. Or email us at: witnessprojectcle@gmail.com.

The Witness Project is a collaboration between Ward 7 Observer,  WOVU 95.9 FM an Reading R.A.M.M. The project is funded by The Cleveland Foundation.