As I mentioned in the last story, Patriot High is essentially a city unto itself. Just like a real city, it contains several thousand human beings. Over 80 different nationalities are represented within its walls. It has its own stores, cafeterias, showers, swimming pools, and playing fields. It has its own police force, as well as its own gangs. I’ve even heard that there’s a school in there somewhere. And sadly, just like in a real city, its residents occasionally die, sometimes far too young.
But another characteristic that Patriot has in common with a real city is a contingent of thugs who spend their time and energy spreading the “Stop Snitchin'” ethic. For those who don’t know, “Stop Snitchin'” is a relatively recent marketing campaign in high crime communities with an age-old message: Cooperate With Police At Your Peril.
The proponents of this movement are not great debaters. They are not offering a lot of cogent arguments in defense of their beliefs. Rather, they’ve opted for a brutal campaign of intimidation to advance their ideology. Their medium of choice is the t-shirt. But they make videos too.
I met some of them just the other day while I was “clearing” the halls, or as Dean Flint puts it, “shoveling defecation against the tide,” while the principal sits inside her mahogany suite, enlisting others to come up with crafty new ways she can keep her job and her six figure salary without her having to do any work. The only sign that she’s even alive in there is the steady stream of pizzas being delivered to her door. But craftiness has its limits and word on the street is that Patriot will be shut down no matter how well we do on our next State Quality Inspection. They’re on to us. But meanwhile, we deans continue to knock on our helmets, take a deep breath, and charge into the halls trying to take back Hamburger Hill eight times a day, five days a week. But there’s no way around the fact that clearing the halls at a school like Patriot just plain sucks. I’ve used up all my metaphors to describe it. Suffice it to say that it just sucks, plain and simple.
So in the midst of the suckitude, two gangly, cackling morons ran right into my chest. I knew them. Gujarat Deodat and Ramnarine Hemodine, both from Guyana. They were sporting brand new, bright white t-shirts, and they both had an extra one hanging over their shoulder. On the front was an image of a large red stop sign with the words “Stop Snitchin'” on it. On the back in graffiti style script were the words “Crime Wave.”
When they bumped into me they knocked the pen out of my hands. I didn’t pick it up. I just stood there and gave them a hard stare.
“Oh shit!” One of them laughed to the other, raising his hand to his mouth. “Yo, you knocked Mistah Pistol’s pen out his hand! Pick that shit up, Nigga!”
The other one made a tooth-sucking sound before bending down and retrieving the pen.
I didn’t thank him.
“Why are you wearing those shirts?”
“Yo Mistah, people be snitchin’!”
“Yo, thass how I got locked up Mistah!”
“So we shouldn’t punish criminals?”
“Naw, but people be tellin’ on people mistah!”
“Don’t bring those shirts back here. I don’t wanna see them again.” Then I disappeared back into the blur of traffic.
“That ain’t fair, Mistah!” Gujarat yelled after me.
“Remember what I said!” I called back over my shoulder. “I don’t wanna see those again!”
Now it should be noted that, while the “Stop Snitchin'” campaign has gotten a lot of attention in the press recently because of its catchy sloganeering and its tech-savy use of dvds, the internet, and the t-shirt, the code of silence that it promotes is actually nothing new, and it’s certainly not limited to any one city, race, or culture. Heck, at least 75% of movies clearly document the presence of some form of a code of silence in every police force, mafia family, and prison in the entire world. I’ve even heard the term “rat” thrown around in a conversation between teachers.
One time Dave took a father and his daughter to see the principal because the girl wouldn’t cooperate with us to tell us who helped her stomp another girl into a bloody mess in the stairs.
“Listen,” the father bluntly informed the principal. “We’re from Howard Beach. My dowtah ain’t no fockin’ rat.”
But what really upsets me is to see the crumbling communities that many of my students come from be even further devastated by their own people who force them to accept, and even support, the predators in their midst. And this is not just selfless compassion on my part, because the more my students and their families suffer, the more I suffer. Because from 8:30am to 3:30pm I’m the human punching bag for the sickest, vilest and most deranged victims of this cultural dissolution. So it’s in my direct interest to see it get better rather than get worse.