Snitching for Fun and Profit
For a growing number of students, the easiest way to make a couple of hundred dollars has nothing to do with chores or after-school jobs, and everything to do with informing on classmates.
Tragedies like last month's deadly shooting at a Red Lake, Minn., school have prompted more schools to offer cash and other prizes — including pizza and premium parking spots — to students who report classmates who carry guns, drugs or alcohol, commit vandalism or otherwise break school rules.
"For kids of that age, it's hard for them to tell on their peers. This gives them an opportunity to step up if they know something that will help us make an arrest," said James Kinchen, an assistant school superintendent in Houston County, Ga., which earlier this month started offering rewards of up to $100 for reporting relatively minor crimes like vandalism or theft and $500 for information about a crime, or plans for a crime, involving a gun.
But of course! There's so much less stigma involved in snitching when you're doing it for thirty pieces of silver, than when you just do it because you believe (however misguidedly) you're doing the right thing.
The traditional social mores by which snitches and informants are held in contempt, it goes without saying, are viewed with extreme disfavor both by the police state and the publik skools. This is just the latest in a series of initiatives, following on the heels of such programs as DARE and WAVE, aimed at removing the stigma associated with being a dirty little sneak who betrays family and friends to the authorities.
A few years back, I heard a story on NPR about the effect of TV violence on children. The story included an interview with an elementary school teacher who was nearly sobbing as she related her frustration at the reluctance of her wards to report each other's conversations to her. So she solved the problem by planting a mike to tape their conversations without their knowledge. Of course, the admirable quality of snitching and the obvious rightness of electronic eavesdropping weren't even at issue in the interview; they just set the background for the main point of the story, which was the extent to which children's playground conversation was taken up by the violent TV shows they'd watched the night before. As you might expect, this had the lachrymose teacher approaching near-Sally Struthers levels of hysteria about "the children."
The Screw the Kids blog (apparently defunct, alas) put it quite well: "Every time some syphylitic drip-dick of a politician or public policy wonk wants to pass a stupid new law, they cry 'It's for the children.'"
The article continues:
Critics call them "snitch" programs, saying they are a knee-jerk reaction to student violence. Some education professionals fear such policies could create a climate of distrust in schools and turn students against each other.
"There are very few things that I can think of that would be more effective at destroying that sense of community," said Bruce Marlowe, an education psychology professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.
Ah--but that's the point! A sense of community is just what an authoritarian state doesn't want. A cohesive society, functioning independently of the state, can become the basis for resistance; an atomized society is so much easier to control.
Some students fear classmates with a grudge or set on making some quick money may level false accusations or plant drugs or weapons in their lockers.
But Houston County's Kinchen said: "That will sort itself out. Our officers deal with these kind of things every day; they can find out which kid is being set up and which kid is telling the truth."
Well, of course they deal with them every day. In the drug war, cops are often the very ones doing the "setting up." All it takes is a jailhouse snitch to make an accusation in return for better treatment, and that fancy speedboat the cops have been coveting can be seized without any need for criminal prosecution. It might be auctioned off to buy tasers, kevlar vests and gas-masks; it might be sold to a cop for $5 in a "private auction"; or it might just disappear from inventory.
It's especially ironic, in the light of such surveillance programs, that the cops object so strenuously to organizations like CopWatch that attempt to turn the tables by keeping an eye on them. CopWatch observers who monitor local police forces for civil rights abuses are frequently prosecuted for "obstructing police work" simply for quietly videotaping police stops and arrests. I don't know why the cops are so upset about such monitoring: as the saying goes, if you haven't done anything wrong, then you've got nothing to worry about. What do they have to hide?