Don’t call them snitches. In­for­mants help solve crimes.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion - By Nick Sor­tal Nick Sor­tal is a Plan­ta­tion City Coun­cilmem­ber and a for­mer re­porter for the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel.

It is one thing for rap­pers and gang mem­bers to find a pe­jo­ra­tive way to char­ac­ter­ize a per­son who tells the truth.

It’s an­other thing when a daily news­pa­per does so.

I’m re­fer­ring to the term “snitch,” which ap­peared in big let­ters across the Sun Sen­tinel Lo­cal sec­tion ear­lier this month.

“Jail­house snitch praised by cops” was the head­line of a story about a jail­house in­for­mant whose tes­ti­mony has led to many other con­vic­tions. The ar­ti­cle by Marc Free­man, who has done a very good job over the years cov­er­ing Palm Beach County courts, de­tailed Fred­er­ick Co­bia’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

Co­bia has been a key wit­ness for pros­e­cu­tors in al­most two dozen cases over the past decade. Jailed for a 2009 mur­der, he has helped pros­e­cu­tors con­vict so many peo­ple that there is not a sin­gle prison in Florida where he would be safe, the story says.

Free­man de­scribed Co­bia, who is apolo­getic for his crimes, as pros­e­cu­tors’ “fa­vorite jail­house snitch.”

I don’t think this is a case of the me­dia us­ing an in­flam­ma­tory word to at­tract read­ers, or clicks. This is a case of the me­dia, which I still be­lieve to be an ex­ten­sion of the pub­lic, buy­ing into a nar­ra­tive cre­ated by those with a dis­dain for our le­gal sys­tem. Or those look­ing for a way to link to the bravado boasted in the hip-hop world for the past decade.

Let’s go back a few years:

In the early 2000s, rap­pers and oth­ers be­gan wear­ing shirts that read “Stop Snitchin’” and in late 2004, Rod­ney Bethea re­leased a DVD of the same name. Other shirts with the phrases “I’ll Never Tell” and “Keep Yo’ Mouth Shut” also ap­peared.

A 2013 movie, ti­tled “Snitch” told the tale of a con­flicted young man who had the chance to lessen his prison sen­tence by pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on a friend. His fa­ther was played by Dwayne “The Rock” John­son. Can’t get much more main­stream than that.

De­fense lawyers now love to por­tray in­mates who feed in­for­ma­tion as snitches. Why? Be­cause den­i­grat­ing those who tell the truth makes “snitches” less likely to do so – and blocks off an ef­fec­tive way of putting their clients be­hind bars.

The me­dia has some­how bought into this sto­ry­line. And this isn’t the first time I’ve crit­i­cized Sun Sen­tinel ed­i­tors for us­ing the word. (I barged into for­mer Ed­i­tor Howard Saltz’s of­fice with the same com­plaint some­time be­fore I re­tired in 2015.) I be­lieve it to be un­in­ten­tional, more an er­ror of care­less­ness. But I ask this: Why is it that a city em­ployee who calls out a fel­low em­ployee for, say, cheat­ing on a time­card, called a “whistle­blower,” while a per­son who pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on a much larger of­fense, even mur­der, is la­beled a “snitch?”

I emailed Free­man, and while I re­spect his re­sponse, I don’t agree with it.

He says whistle­blow­ers are vic­tims who speak up against an in­jus­tice at work.

“Jail­house snitches are crim­i­nals or ac­cused crim­i­nals who are not vic­tims and are in­stead re­spon­si­ble for land­ing them­selves be­hind bars in the first place,” he wrote. “Big dif­fer­ence.”

He also notes that it’s not his job to pro­tect the im­age or in­tegrity of “cold­blooded killers who try to cut bet­ter deals for them­selves by rat­ting out other cold-blooded killers.” Nei­ther does he be­lieve the me­dia’s con­tin­ued use of the word “snitch” will dis­cour­age in­mates from co­op­er­at­ing with law en­force­ment to serve their own in­ter­ests.

I still see it as a case of un­in­tended bias seep­ing into our cul­ture, par­roted by those who re­port the news.

I con­fess to hav­ing a bias. Two men were con­victed in the 2001 mur­der of my brother, Michael Sor­tal, in Fort Laud­erdale. One man con­fessed. The other had a more cir­cum­stan­tial case un­til, yes, he talked a lit­tle too much in jail. A fel­low in­mate shared the de­tails with our pros­e­cu­tors.

You might call that in­mate a snitch. Our fam­ily called him much nicer things.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.