Putting the lie to `Stop Snitching' creed

October 07, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Has Cornell Dews found an antidote to Baltimore's "Stop Snitching" malady?

He thinks he has. And it's in the form of a T-shirt, one that Dews thinks has a message to counter the "Stop Snitching" T-shirts and caps spreading like an annoying rash throughout the land.

Dews' T-shirt has a large red octagon on the front. It's meant to look like a stop sign. But in addition to the word "stop," Dews has added something. The white letters on the red octagon read "Stop Lying."

The message of the shirt could apply to the congressional and gubernatorial elections going on throughout the country in 2006, but that's not Dews' main concern.

"The idea was birthed from working with my children and trying to redirect them," Dews said. Until last June, Dews taught an all-boys fourth grade class at Furman Templeton Elementary School. He'd taught the same boys since they were in the second grade. But Dews said he wasn't rehired for this school year.

"Maybe if I were a convicted felon, I'd have been rehired," Dews said, a wisecrack reference to Martius Harding, a convicted felon who was allowed to teach at a Baltimore elementary school for an entire year while he awaited sentencing.

Before teaching at Templeton, Dews taught for two years at the Eager Street Academy, a euphenistic name for a city school. Dews has no qualms about telling people what the academy really is: a school at the Baltimore City Detention Center for juvenile offenders. Before that, he served briefly as a mentor at Lake Clifton High School, his alma mater.

"I went to the Million-Man March in 1995," Dews said, "and I took the message for us to go back to our communities and make a difference seriously."

It was while teaching elementary school that Dews became concerned about a different message, one being sent to our children, especially those black children in inner-city schools like Templeton.

"So many people are lying to them," Dews said about those children.

These people know who they are. If they don't, Dews is more than happy to remind them.

On a Saturday in early September, Dews drove from his home in Northeast Baltimore and turned south on Belair Road. As he cruised toward the neighborhood off Harford Road where he grew up, he told me who was No. 1 on his hit-list of folks guilty of lying to the kiddies, the ones who provide the most outrageous and egregious examples: those black adult males telling black boys that "jail is nothing" and "I can do 18 months standing on my head."

Just below them on Dews' list are rappers who claim they grew up in poverty.

"Some of them grew up in better neighborhoods and went to better schools than I did," Dews said.

Tied at No. 2 are the rappers who brag about their lives of crime. Curtis Jackson, known better to the world as 50 Cent, might be Dews' Exhibit A of such rappers. While discussing rap and gangsta rap with his students when they were second-graders, Dews got a sobering and frightening example of the effects such bragging could have.

Jackson claims to have been shot nine times when he was a drug dealer in Queens, N.Y. Such revelations have been known to increase what is known as "street cred" in the hip-hop community. In the normal world, "street cred" and a couple of bucks won't buy you a Big Mac.

Dews found his boys wanting to be like Jackson, even to the point of getting shot. That's when he knew something was terribly wrong. That feeling was reinforced when he heard guys he grew up with brag about doing crimes Dews suspected they had never committed, and doing prison time Dews knew they didn't do because they were on the street.

It's a mind-set among young black men that can only be described, in the kindest terms, as downright bizarre. It's worse than the "Stop Snitching" craze, which involves actual criminals daffy enough to think that other criminals caught by police aren't going to snitch. Or that they won't snitch when they're caught.

Dominac Cook, who was sporting a "Stop Lying" T-shirt while sitting on some steps in the block where Dews was raised, explained the difference between "Stop Snitching" and "Stop Lying."

"`Stop Lying' means to me like it's a whole lot of people out here that lie about so much," Cook said. "It's like the opposite of `Stop Snitching,' but more. It's better than `Stop Snitching.'"

"Stop Lying" is certainly a better message than "Stop Snitching," one that is darn near universal. It can apply to those politicians who lie to us, those bona fide snitches who have lied people into jail and those black "leaders" who claim white racism is the reason there are so many young black men in prison.

Dews isn't sure if his T-shirt will start a craze that will make him rich. But he's sure it will definitely do one of two things.

"This shirt," Dews predicted, "is either going to make me famous or get me hurt."

gregory.kane@baltsun.com

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