Changing bystanders to ‘upstanders

On Oct. 12, 15-year-old Michael Brewer of Deerfield Beach, Fla., was set on fire by five of his peers. The five teens were subsequently arrested for the assault on Michael, which resulted in second-degree burns that covered 80 percent of his body. He is still in the hospital.

Michael”s crime? He was a “snitch.” Michael had owed one of the boys money for a video game. He never paid the money. One of the boys stole Michael’s father’s bicycle to get back at him. Michael reported the theft, and the suspected boy was taken to a detention center. On the day before the burning, the suspect was released from the center, and witnesses reported that one of the five boys yelled, “He’s a snitch!” As a result of Michael’s “snitching,” the five boys doused him in alcohol and used a lighter to set him on fire.

What Michael did used to be called “tattling.” Over the years, it’s been known as “ratting,” “narcing” and, more recently, the mob term for informant (“snitch”) was revived by drug dealers and gangs and brought back into vogue.

Today, providing information to police is a violation of street ethics, punishable not just by intimidation, but sometimes death. This “no-snitching code” is reinforced in rap music and the media, giving American youth the message that not only is it honorable not to report crimes, but that it is OK to retaliate against those who snitch.

What is particularly difficult about the growing acceptance of not reporting criminal activity or helping police investigations is that it creates more bystanders. Bystanders assume a position of not getting involved, often out of fear. It has become a code followed not just by people in the criminal world, but by citizens and our youth, as well….