Thug life -- the sequel

`Stop Snitching 2' replicates message, rants

December 23, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

A boy so diminutive that the camera must tilt down to capture him waves a silver handgun while directing obscenities at the police. A self-proclaimed Park Heights drug dealer names three police officers who he says can be bribed with drugs. A young woman in a barber shop warns "Doobie" to stay away from her because he "was snitchin' on my man."

The shock-value scenes from Stop Snitching 2, viewed this week by The Sun, are virtually interchangeable with those from the original. In many ways, the sequel replicates a formula that, three years ago, made Stop Snitching wildly popular in Baltimore neighborhoods and put the city's criminal culture on national display.

Like the original, the sequel is a rough-cut montage of street scenes and obscene, anti-law enforcement rants. There's no plot and no real dialogue. There is, once again, an overarching theme: Hatred of criminals who tell on other criminals.

"We don't know who snitches are, but when we find out, we gonna bust a cap," shouts the young boy who moments earlier had held a gun.

But there are major differences between Stop Snitching and Stop Snitching 2 - both in the documentary itself and in the marketing strategy accompanying it.

This time, producer Rodney Bethea said, he wants to build buzz about the DVD, which will cost $9.99, before it is released in late January. He started accepting preorders last week through his Urly Media Web site, and a trailer he posted last month on video-sharing site YouTube had been viewed about 14,000 times as of yesterday.

In addition to profit motives, Bethea said there are more profound reasons why he is promoting the DVD early. This way, he said, he can explain to would-be viewers what they are about to watch instead of defending the product to people who have seen it and made up their minds.

The 34-year-old moviemaker, barber and property investor said he learned this lesson the hard way. Like the eight rap-centered documentaries that preceded it, the original Stop Snitching was intended for an "urban, hip-hop" audience," he said.

But a cameo appearance by NBA star and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony helped it cross over to a mainstream audience, where politicians and law enforcement officials held it up as evidence of the community's refusal to cooperate with the criminal justice system.

Stop Snitching, said Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and others, carried a message of witness intimidation - that it was OK, even encouraged, to harm residents who assisted the police.

Jessamy distributed more than 500 copies to lawmakers and residents as she pushed for reforms to the state's anti-intimidation laws. (Another change: The sequel is copyrighted and encrypted to limit bootlegging.)

Stop Snitching 2 begins with a nod to the controversy created by the original. "Let me clear something up," Bethea says, filmed while sitting on the staircase of his studio in West Baltimore.

He says, "People are surviving the only way they know how." That's why, he says, there's a strong feeling that drug dealers should not give police the names of other criminals in an effort to save themselves. That's why, he says, a little boy is shown with a gun.

City officials are not pleased about the sequel. Having only seen the trailer, it is "pretty clear that these are not people with the best interests of the community at heart," Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon and the Police Department, said in an e-mailed statement.

At 54 minutes, the sequel is half as long as the original. It is "more on point," Bethea said.

Gone are the dirty-dancing scenes that were sprinkled throughout the original. Gone are the extended freestyle rap scenes. Gone (for the most part) are the at-times completely unintelligible soliloquies of men who admitted to being high on drugs.

And gone is the body-shaking laughter of the first cameraman. Akiba Matthews was in prison for heroin distribution by the time filming for the sequel began.

Police said the original DVD helped them make several arrests. Nevertheless, Bethea said, Baltimore residents lined up to spout off on camera for the sequel.

But this time there is a clear star. He is Kenneth Morris, and he serves as a Virgil to the Dantes lost in Baltimore's Inferno.

"Stop for a minute," he says, offering advice to those who find themselves in police custody. "Think and listen. Or half the time, you'll be telling on yourself."

He cites a court case restricting the use of co-defendant testimony. He argues that everyone hates snitches; it's just that there are many different names for them. For the police, it's "internal affairs investigators." For the government, it's "spies."

Morris, 40, was shot to death in May 2005, just after he finished filming his scenes. Police have made no arrests; no mention of the homicide is made on the DVD.

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