Recently the News & Observer newspaper printed an article in which law enforcement authorities were bemoaning the “no snitch” rule of the streets as hampering their investigations into crime. Yes, it is a problem, but as explained previously in depth at this blog site, it is a problem that has been exacerbated by the short-sighted, inept, and discriminatory actions of the Wilson Police Department and its prosecutors in the merit-less criminal case against James Arthur Johnson.
“No snitch” rules, however, are not confined to inner-city streets. They are, no doubt, prevalent throughout our society, and assist in corruption in all levels of society and government. The thin blue line is notorious for its “no snitch” rule, which interferes with investigations of corruption within the ranks of America’s finest. But perhaps nowhere is the “no snitch” rule as strong and as closely adhered to as it is in athletic team sports. First, there is an overwhelming camaraderie that bonds team participants, both on and off the field. Secondly, teammates depend upon one another for their individual and overall success. For example, a lineman on a football field may not block effectively for a running back with whom he might hold a grudge, or a teammate on the basketball court might not get the ball as often if the other members are at odds with him. Universally, most teams, especially the successful ones, are a close knit band of brothers waging war on the field, court, or diamond against a common opponent.
In the Duke Lacrosse case, the majority of partygoers on the night of March 13, 2006, at the house on Buchanan Street in Durham, were members of the highly ranked Duke lacrosse team. They were socializing, as a team in an atmosphere in which their rowdy behavior was not only accepted, but expected. Previous parties had gotten so out of control that the coach of the team, Mike Pressler, had been instructed by the Duke University president Richard Brodhead to rein in his players and their notoriously raucous parties. Caution was thrown to the wind by the lacrosse players and their guests that March night, where booze and drugs diminished what little common sense they possessed and led to the alleged deplorable actions involving an African American psychology student who was performing as an exotic dancer to help support her two children and pay for her education at North Carolina Central University.
When the charges of sexual abuse at the party were leveled and an investigation begun, Duke lacrosse player partygoers huddled, like they would on the field, and went into a defensive mode. They would, without a doubt, present a united front against their common foe, the accuser. If any one of the players were to act individually, and honestly give information about what transpired at the party to the police investigators, there is no doubt that he could kiss his position on the team (with national championship aspirations) good bye. Further, he would be ostracized by his former teammates, the student body, the powerful alumni, and the community. There is no telling the extent of retribution such an individual would face, especially if his testimony resulted in the conviction of his fellow teammate(s).
This is what former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong and the Durham Police Department faced when they began their investigation. Obtaining a party-going witness who was not under the yoke of the team’s “no snitch” rule was an impossible challenge. But if successful, it would give a tremendous boost to the investigation and possibly the prosecution of the case. Because team members would not come forth voluntarily for interviews at the request of the police and investigators, Mr. Nifong tried to appeal to the conscience of the lacrosse partygoer… to appeal to their better angels. He made several statements to the media which were obviously intended to encourage individual witnesses to come forward. Statements, which were mild in tenor, were attempts to cajole, goad, persuade, and even threaten to get witnesses to come forward. The “no snitch” rule of team athletic competitors held strong, and no investigatory breakthrough was forthcoming.
These statements, made prior to any indictments being handed down, and not directed at any one individual, were one of three underpinnings used to bring the cockamamie ethics complaint against Mr. Nifong. The other two merit-less charges brought against Mr. Nifong by the unregulated North Carolina State Bar were that he: 1) withheld evidence from the defense attorneys… which is an outright lie; and 2) lied to the courts… a charge, which itself is a lie.
So, the “no snitch” rule is of relevance when applied to ordinary citizens when it comes to the investigation of a street crime; however, if the witnesses are members of the Duke lacrosse team in which one or more of their teammates may be implicated, then their silence is not a factor. Such is the North Carolina tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”