CI: Collective Non-Cooperation

January 22, 2014 at 7:08 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Collective Non-Cooperation
by nancy a heitzeg

One of the least discussed realities of criminal injustice is this: the entire endeavor rests on the cooperation of everyday citizens. Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data primarily depends on citizens to call and report crimes to the police. Gaps in UCR data (i.e. unaccounted for crimes that are neither detected by police nor reported by citizens) are estimated by administering the National Crime Victimization Survey to a random subset of the population. The over-whelming majority of everything that is known about crime, especially the Index Offenses, comes from us.

Further, Arrest Rates or Clearance Rates rely heavily – not on super-tech CSI techniques – but on victim and/or bystander descriptions. Prosecutors depend on a snitch system of informants to further investigations especially in so-called “victimless” crimes such as drug deals. The courts count on 90% of all those charged to accept a “negotiated guilty plea” otherwise known as plea-bargaining.

Professor Alexandra Natapoff on Snitching

The Criminal InJustice System is Nothing without our Cooperation.

As it becomes increasingly clear that reporting crime does little to protect us and that state violence often further victimizes those that seek help, what if we stopped calling ? What if some of us already have?

As police become increasingly violent in their responses to even 911 calls for help, what if we stopped calling them?

As the Drug War system of mass incarceration becomes ever more dependent on confidential informants, what if we stopped snitching?

As we are increasingly asked to give up our constitutional rights, what if, as Michelle Alexander wonders,  we went “to trial and crashed the system”?

What would that look like? How could that be collectively organized? What alternatives would need to be in place?

Think about it..

In the meantime, Know Your Rights.


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To Richard Lyon's point - it IS discouraged to report rape/sexual violence. If we collectively decide not to cooperate with the evidently exceedingly corrupt system with regard to such things as drugs, petty theft, and other non-violent crimes - do we have to sign on to not cooperate with regard to violent crimes? So we handle assault and sexual violence on our own? Or is this still a place for reporting to the police? For making that 9-1-1 call? How about if one of the parties involved - especially the victim of violent/sexual assault is a member of the LGBTQ community? There seems to be a no specific/correct answer. Do we use our best judgement? If we are a witness, rather than a victim/participant in a criminal act, do we make the call, and then stick around to witness how the police handle it, just to make sure that real justice is served as much as it can be?

Even when people report sexual violence, they are often made to feel victimized all over again, or asked questions about whether they encouraged the behavior, how they were dressed, if they were 'asking for it'. 

With regard to victimless crimes, I sort of feel like I may have already made the decision not to cooperate. The prison system is already so destructive, I see no point in adding another inmate into it. However, if I were to be sexually assaulted in way in which I couldn't fight back in the moment, perhaps I would report. I don't know.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon

I suppose that they still tell children in school not to be a tattletale. However, like so much else that one gets told at that age it doesn't hold up in later life. You are entirely correct that the criminal injustice system depends on snitches, but there seems to be a very large pipeline of them. There is plenty of indoctrination in the media to encourage. There are of course a few notable exceptions. Reporting of rape is strongly discouraged.  

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg moderator

@KayWhitlockthanks for that link Kay.. the risks often far put-weigh the so-called perceived benefits.

And false Snitch info remains the #1 factor in death penalty"innocence" cases