Silent running

August 18, 2005
Cable Pulse 24

Clothes, they say, make the man. But do they also make the community? That’s what many in the G.T.A. are wondering, after the recent shootings that have left a trail of blood through some of Toronto’s most troubled neighbourhoods.

Police have had enough trouble simply getting witnesses or informants to talk to authorities about who’s behind the guns and gang violence. And now a sign of how deeply rooted those convictions can be are being highlighted in clothing sold in hipper stores across the city.

The message on one: “Stop Snitching”. Others add a coda: “Don’t Talk To Police.”

The implication is clear. Those who talk to the cops could be violating an unwritten rule. And that’s sometimes met with violence.

But the retailer selling the outfits claims there are other ways to interpret the words. “You could take it however you want,” suggests Richard Welcome of the Jump Off Store. “For example, 'stop snitching' can mean ... like a little brother stop telling on his older brother or maybe even like a boyfriend hating another guy's girlfriend.”

But even though gangsta rappers are the icon of many teens and the message is being disseminated in many of their videos, some don’t buy it.

“It encourages people to allow crimes to happen,” complains a student named Lore.

“It is giving like, subconscious messages, like don't go to the cops,” agrees Andrea Elcock. “The cops aren't on your side.”

A video with the shirt had been playing on MuchMusic, but as the city explodes in a summer of lethal violence, a new one with more artists donning the questionable clothing won’t be aired.

“Some of us just felt like it was bad timing on the artist’s part because of the various things that are going on in our communities right now,” explains Much programmer Greg Baptiste.

Still, some believe the concern over a simple garment is overblown.

“I think there's a lot more issues to deal with than to worry about whether or not people are snitching,” counters Nkem Anizor. “I don't think that pushing the youth to come forward and snitch on their friends is the best way to deal with the violence. There's poverty. There's housing issues. There's employment issues. Police brutality.”

But at the moment, those concerns aren't being worn on any shirt fronts.