12/20/2007

Md. police brace for "Stop Snitching 2"

By Julie Bykowicz
The Baltimore Sun
Related: 'Code of Silence' is growing problem

BALTIMORE The star, pot-smoking street sage Skinny Suge, is locked up in Western Maryland. The cameo celebrity, NBA all-star Carmelo Anthony, still plays for the Denver Nuggets, having bounced back from the bad publicity. And the two city cops called out by name, William King and Antonio Murray, are in federal prison, probably for the rest of their lives.

Three years after the underground, profanity-laced DVD Stop Snitching became a local political prop and a national emblem of Baltimore's crime problems, the producer, Rodney Bethea, is ready to release a sequel.

Stop Snitching 2 went on sale this week. For $9.99, plus shipping and handling, buyers can "pre-order the DVD they don't want you to see," Bethea's Urly Media Web site says.

In an interview, Bethea said his intent is not to intimidate but to educate.

"What I'm doing is exposing the social conditions," he said. "There's a lack of information, a lack of hope and a lack of jobs. They're closing schools and building juvenile jails. I've documented that mentality. Through awareness, I hope to bring forth change."

Police officials aren't buying it.

"The small portion of the DVD we've seen so far makes it pretty clear that these are not people with the best interests of the community at heart," Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon and the police department, said in an e-mailed statement.

The trailer, which runs one minute and 19 seconds, features a middle-schooler waving a handgun and then taking a drag from a joint, and Skinny Suge (filmed before he pleaded guilty in January to first-degree assault) cussing at the city prosecutor and a congressman.

There's also a man firing a gun into the night sky, seemingly for no reason.

The sequel is an hourlong, unrefined look at Baltimore street culture, Bethea said. (There is a brief and somewhat inexplicable departure to the outskirts of Greensboro, N.C.)

"This is probably more raw, more graphic than the first one," Bethea said. "It's a shockumentary."

On the trailer, viewed more than 1,000 times since it was posted three weeks ago on the video-sharing site youtube.com, a man dressed in black describes Stop Snitching 2 this way:

"What we gonna do on this DVD, we gonna define what snitchin' actually is."

Bethea's intended audience, "the urban hip-hop" set, is familiar with that definition, he said. But it was lost in translation, Bethea said, as the DVD's popularity fueled by the brief appearance of Anthony mushroomed in the mainstream.

Officials soon took note. The Baltimore Police Department released its response to Stop Snitching in the form of a video called Keep Talking.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy passed out more than 500 copies of Stop Snitching to lawmakers as she urged them to increase penalties for those who intimidate witnesses. (The original was not copyrighted; the sequel is.)

"The same way the criminals are using this DVD to get their message across on the street to witnesses, we as law enforcement should use it to demonstrate the degree of the problem," Jessamy said in December 2004, the peak of the DVD's notoriety.

That year, Baltimore prosecutors dropped about one-quarter of their gun cases, they said, because direct or perceived intimidation created problems with witness testimony.

Changes in state law have helped, but a street culture labeling those who cooperate with police and prosecutors as "rats" and "snitches" remains, Jessamy said in a recent interview.

Bethea said those labels don't apply to "the little old lady on the block" who calls the police about a drug deal. "She is not considered a snitch," he said. "She is a civilian doing what she is supposed to do."

"When we refer to snitches, we are referring to a person engaging and profiting from illegal activities," he said. "And when they get arrested, to save themselves, they tell on everyone else they know. No one likes that."

In a bit of irony, corrupt police officers King and Murray, mentioned in the first DVD, were convicted in federal court of helping Antonio Mosby distribute heroin in part because Mosby testified against them. For his cooperation, Mosby was sentenced to less than 18 months in federal prison. King and Murray each received more than 100 years.

Bethea promises that more corrupt officers will be identified in the sequel. Anthony does not appear in this video, but there is another potential breakout star, Bethea said.

His name in Kenneth Morris, and people called him Tupac for his resemblance to the rap star Tupac Shakur, who attended an arts high school in Baltimore and was shot to death in 1996.

Morris the man in black featured in the trailer was outspoken, Bethea said. He was shot to death May 2005 under "mysterious circumstances," just after he finished filming his scenes, Bethea said.

Asked about the sequel at a City Hall news conference, Dixon said she had watched the trailer for the first time today and found it "disturbing" and "disheartening." Dixon has largely focused her administration on trying to improve relations between residents and the police.

Jessamy said she is a bit flattered by the mention of her name in the sequel, attached as it is to some salty language. She said it shows she must be doing something right.

Copyright 2007 The Baltimore Sun

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