For years, one of the most common, if not infamous, expressions on the streets of urban America has been “stop snitching,” which has evolved from a warning among those who mistrust the authorities to a mentality that threatens innocent people who witness violent crimes and major felonies, and establishes street cred just for avoiding cooperation with police under any circumstances.
But DJ Star (Troi Torain), who is one half of the morning crew on the long-controversial Star & Buc Wild show on WPHI-FM (100.3) in Philadelphia, is determined to change that regardless of what the streets say or what it does to his reputation in hip-hop. He’s bringing out a “Start Snitchin'” campaign in response to an overt rash of violent homicides in his town over the past few years. He spoke with NewsFeed after his show to explain why he wants people to report crime and cooperate with police, despite threats that “snitches get stitches” permeating hip-hop culture.
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Where did all of this come from? Why do you want people to snitch?
We actually started “Start Snitching” back in 1998 when we were on the public-access Manhattan Neighborhood Network. We’ve always been outspoken and we pride ourselves on being blueprints from the streets, so it came about from when we were just talking about the senseless shootings taking place in Crown Heights (Brooklyn) where I lived for a decade. It picked up momentum in 2002 when we were hosting the morning show on Hot 97 (WQHT-FM, New York).
We got the sad news of the shooting of some young people and it was just graphic, the next day there was video footage of two teenagers shooting into a crowd at a club. We read these stories and almost become immune. So that’s what it was, man. There’s a certain mentality that must be dealt with, to stop young people and make them think. And I don’t like the culture of hip-hop being blamed. That’s another reason I’m standing up.
But how are people going to take this? “Stop snitching” is something ingrained in street culture at this point. What will people say to you for twisting the street status quo?
I couldn’t care less. I choose to stand up. I’m a man of a certain age and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve survived the crack wars and there comes a point in a person’s life where you let people know you have a moral compass. Sadly, there is a groundswell of ignorance and if you subscribe to it you will always live in fear and be subjected to that mindstate.
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You, however, are no stranger to controversy yourself. So what’s the response been with the Star & Buc Wild show having such a wild reputation?
It’s been very well-received. If you look on our Twitter page, if you look at some of our blogs, it’s nice to see people who say it’s about time people stood for the cause. Even Russell Simmons on his Twitter page says he supports this. You also have to think that by todays’ standards, everybody’s a snitch. If you’re on YouTube and you’re holding money to the camera that you made illegally, or you’re showing guns, you’re snitching on yourself. So I’m not concerned on any level about what people are saying. This is where I stand.
Well what about people who don’t snitch for intrinsically preventive reasons? You know, the ones who fear catching a beatdown, or worse?
You have to break down snitching. We’re talking about senseless homicides, I’m not talking about someone who sold a bag of weed. I don’t know if you know about Philly, but there are 1.4 million people here. Since January we’re looking at 170 murders and we’re only in July. That surpasses the whole year of 2010 with 162 homicides. So I can’t worry about people who don’t want to speak up for fear of retribution. I look at other communities that police themselves and they have a cohesive understanding that certain things are just morally unacceptable. There has to be an understanding in the cities and suburbs that, hey, it’s not going to be tolerated.
What’s next for “Start Snitchin'”? Are you planning to move it forward? Maybe take it nationwide?
I’m doing what I think can be done within my responsibilities at (parent company) Radio-One. I have to fulfill my obligations, and I’m thankful they have given me the opportunity to launch this initiative. What ever comes out of this, I’m up to the task. So that’s what this is, man. It’s going against the grain. It’s not new. I don’t think anyone’s been more vulgar or aggressive than myself out of the urban world. So this lets people know there’s more to me than what we’ve been known for in the past.
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Madison Gray is Homepage Producer at TIME.com. Find him on Twitter at @madisonjgray. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.