Commentary by Helen Ubiñas
August 30, 2005
Eyvette Monigan noticed the "Stop Snitchin' " T-shirts
at the West Indian parade two weeks ago, though my hipper sources
tell me they've been around for a few months now.
"If I had a lighter," Monigan said. "I
would have burned them."
Had Henrietta Beckman been there, she would have furnished the
light. She hadn't seen the T-shirts when I called her Monday,
but the very idea was enough to disgust her.
"This is exactly why three years after my son died, I'm
in exactly the same place," she said.
Beckman's 20-year-old son, Randy, was killed in 2002 while sitting
in a car on Hartford's Barbour Street. It happened in the middle
of the day, on a Saturday, near a city park and a large apartment
building in the North End.
Yet when the cops showed up, no one had seen anything, no one
had heard anything. And for three long years, no one has said
anything. So no one's been arrested.
It's bad enough that witnesses shut down whenever police come
looking for information. The victims themselves get incredibly
vague about the circumstances surrounding the crime. It's amazing
how many folks have been shot while just taking a leak in this
Now, as though the message wasn't getting through to folks long
ago intimidated into minding their own business, there's a little
reminder right there on T-shirts available all over the city.
The shirts made their national debut earlier this year, after
a DVD of the same name appeared for sale in Baltimore. The video,
which gained notoriety because it included an appearance by NBA
player Carmelo Anthony, featured a stream of rants against people
who cooperated with police.
It backfired: Police used the video to press the Maryland legislature
to pass tougher laws against witness intimidation. Three of the
video's stars have since been arrested on drug charges.
Hartford Assistant Police Chief Mark Pawlina said he first noticed
the shirts right after 18-year-old James Carter was shot on Martin
Street in May. It's no coincidence that Carter's killing is one
of eight open homicide cases in the city this year.
And like the Baltimore cops, Pawlina said Hartford police made
it known that as clever as the punks wearing the shirts thought
they were being, they were actually just making themselves targets
for police. The T-shirts faded away for a time, he said, but
now they're back - just in time for school. (Note to the Hartford
Public Schools: Ban them.)
As expected, the people making a buck off the T-shirts don't
see the problem.
Rodney Matthews, who's made
a name for himself specializing in memorial apparel at his
East Hartford store, said he's also selling T-shirts that encourage
kids to "Think About It." But
he acknowledged that the "Stop Snitchin' " shirts outsell "Think
About It" two to one.
Renee Moore, the manager at the East Hartford Eblens, said they
just got a shipment of the shirts last week. When I asked her
if she saw a problem with it, considering the amount of violence
in Hartford, she was a good company girl and said no.
"It's part of urban culture," she said. "It's
not a statement. Rappers are wearing them. Kids are just trying
to emulate their role models." Role models like rapper Jay-Z,
featured on another T-shirt Eblens sells? That's the one where
he's pointing a gun at whoever is looking at the shirt.
Every couple of weeks Beckman calls police, hoping for some
news. She called them the other day, she said, but was told they
had nothing new to report. They were still working leads, she
said they told her, still looking for someone who heard or saw
something and was willing to speak up.
"When are we going to teach these kids that it's not snitching?" she
said. "It's standing up for what's right."