The sequel to the infamous Stop Snitching DVD and its implied message - intended or not - is only part of a larger code of silence, a member of a panel said last night at an East Baltimore church.
To get to the root of a culture in which telling on wrongdoers is discouraged, Tyrone Powers, an education and political activist, told about 75 people at New Life United Methodist Church that drug dealers and murderers should not be singled out, and that there need to be whistleblowers in all walks of life, willing to expose politicians, police officers and clergy.
"In this town, in this nation, nobody tells on anybody else," Powers said. "If we're going to address the `stop snitching' thing, let's get it all out there. Let's not demonize a certain group of people."
Last night's forum was led by the Rev. Heber Brown III, vice president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
Carl O. Snowden, director of civil rights for the Maryland attorney general's office, was moderator for a panel discussion that included Lt. Col. Richard Hite, head of community outreach for the Baltimore Police Department; defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit; Farajii Muhammad, host of Listen Up on WEAA-FM 88.9; and Powers, director of the Institute for Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Public Service based at Anne Arundel Community College.
Rodney Bethea, the video's producer, was scheduled to attend the forum but did not show up. Organizers say they are unsure of the reason. Bethea could not be reached by phone last night.
Organizers held the meeting to foster discussion about police corruption, snitching and witness intimidation.
Focus on sequel
But the impetus for the meeting was the sequel to Stop Snitching, the digital video disc originally released by Bethea three years ago as an underground, profanity-laced ode to street life that became a local political prop and a national emblem of Baltimore's crime problems.
Last month, Bethea announced that he was releasing the sequel, Stop Snitching 2, through his Urly Media Web site. At 54 minutes, it is half as long as the original but features much of the rough-cut montage of street scenes and anti-law enforcement rants.
Bethea has said that his video is for the "urban hip-hop" set familiar with the true definition of a snitch. But the word's meaning was lost in translation, Bethea said, as the original digital video disc - fueled by the appearance of NBA star Carmelo Anthony - gained mainstream attention.
Bethea has said the term doesn't apply to "the little old lady on the block" who calls the police about a drug deal. He said snitches are people engaging in and profiting from illegal activities who, after they get arrested, tell on everyone else they know to save themselves.
Bethea's absence disappointed some in attendance who were looking to find out why he continues to produce such videos.
"I'm interested in hearing from the producer," said Melodye Watson, who lives in the Belair-Edison neighborhood. "Because I think it's fear intimidation. I don't think it's positive. It's perpetuating negative stereotypes about crime control. It's being viewed by youth and puts Baltimore City in a negative light."
Without Bethea, last night's discussion quickly shifted to corrupt police behavior. Hite, the police officer, said he cannot defend "rogue cops" but asked the audience to continue to work with officers.
"We have never solved a crime without citizen involvement," Hite said.
Pettit said crimes committed by police have increased significantly in his 35 years practicing law. Pettit said he gets 40 to 50 calls a week from citizens claiming mistreatment by police, from abuse to harassment.
Need `faith' in police
"That ties in with all the difficulties we're having in our community," Pettit said. "The community has to have faith in its police force in order to cooperate and assist."
The city Police Department released its response to the original Stop Snitching in the form of a video called Keep Talking. And city State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy passed out more than 500 copies of Stop Snitching to lawmakers as she urged them to increase penalties for those who intimidate witnesses.