It seems somewhat quaint now to consider the controversy that arose in April 2007 when the rapper Cam’ron told “60 Minutes” interviewer Anderson Cooper that he didn’t believe in talking to the police.
Cooper and Cam’ron discussed the musician’s having been shot. Cooper asked whether Cam’ron would have identified the shooter to police had he seen him. Cam’ron said he wouldn’t because he wouldn’t “snitch,” preferring to police his own community.
Would he inform the police if his neighbor was a serial killer, Cooper asked?
“I wouldn’t call and tell anybody on them,” Cam’ron said, “but I’d probably move.”
In short order, he apologized for the comment, calling it an “error in judgment” — but noting that working with police often “makes you a bigger target of criminal violence” in neighborhoods like his.
But even in the pre-social-media era, the firestorm he'd sparked would not be easily quashed.
Sean Hannity, then co-hosting a show on Fox News with liberal Alan Colmes, seized on Cam'ron's comments as an opportunity to explore the “stop snitching” movement.
“It’s called the ‘stop snitching’ campaign, and it is taking urban communities by storm,” Hannity said. “The purpose? Do not cooperate with police on a crime that you witnessed, no matter how bad. And the result is crimes across America are going unsolved.
"What makes this movement more disturbing,” he added, “is that this back-room code of silence is being marketed by big corporations and fueled by the rap-music industry."
He introduced Marc Lamont Hill, a professor at Temple University, to discuss the issue.
“So the idea that you would witness even a serial killer and not say anything to police — how widespread is that?” Hannity asked.
“I think it’s overstated,” Hill replied, attributing some of Cam’ron’s comments to “bravado.” He added, “I think hip-hop artists and certainly people who live in urban ghettos are far more civically responsible and engaged than his comments would suggest.”
"Is this movement getting traction, or not?” Hannity asked.
“I think it’s getting traction, but it’s important that we don’t locate the beginning of this movement in hip-hop culture,” Hill said. “An anti-snitching position is part and parcel of America culture. From the very beginning of American life, people have assumed anti-snitching postures. We can look at Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales right now and see that he’s taking a stop-snitching position, as well.”
Hill was referring to sworn congressional testimony offered by the then-attorney general in which he repeatedly claimed not to remember details of the firing of eight federal prosecutors under the administration of George W. Bush.
"What does that mean?” Hannity interjected. “That's not the same thing. We're talking about crimes here against innocent victims. You can't compare that to somebody who defends someone politically. That's not the same thing."
"If people are dying in the streets in our cities and people are witnessing these crimes and there is a concerted effort not to tell the police or not to cooperate with the police, that's a phenomenon we'd better pay attention to,” he later added, “or else more innocent people are going to die."
Fast-forward 11 years.
Now, Hill is the one at the center of a fading controversy, after comments he made about Israel at the United Nations led to his firing as a CNN commentator. Hannity is the host of his own eponymous show on Fox News, a platform he uses largely to rise to the defense of President Trump, whose candidacy he endorsed in 2016.
Hannity has been at the forefront of advocating the position that the investigation into Russian interference in that election and, even more so, the investigation into possible coordination with Trump’s campaign itself has been flawed, biased and based on fraudulent premises. He has regularly lifted up theories from Trump and the president’s defenders on Capitol Hill that seek to portray the FBI’s initial investigation and the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as precisely what Trump insists they are: witch hunts.
“If you’re like me, and you grew up to revere an FBI agent, and the FBI comes to your house, and maybe some crime took place in the neighborhood, and maybe you have a little bit of information, but you don’t quite fully recall everything, but you’re pretty sure you do — the advice I have to give you now is, ‘don’t talk to the FBI.’”
“How awful is that? Because we want to help our FBI, because we want to help them solve crimes. We’re good people. We play by the rules. We obey the laws in the country. We pay our taxes. ... We want to get the people that are doing bad things because there are enough of them.”
Put more succinctly: Stop snitching.
Hill actually summarized Hannity’s current position in 2007.
“We also need to connect this to people’s distrust, historically situated distrust, of police forces,” he said. “There’s legitimate suspicion, legitimate wariness of police in terms of their own acts in ghetto neighborhoods.”
Hannity’s stated wariness (however sincere) stemmed from what he characterizes as a legitimate concern born of how the FBI and Mueller have used alleged false statements by people linked to Trump to persuade them to cooperate in the investigation. The Hannity of 2007 seems to have seen police efforts in black communities as uncontroversially noble, prompting Hill to note why skepticism exists. Now that Hannity believes that law enforcement is biased against him and his interests, he adopts Cam’ron’s position.
If a serial false-testimony-offerer lived next door to Hannity, he might move, but apparently he wouldn't tell the FBI.
Hannity’s argument is probably mostly meant to bolster Trump’s own effort to get his former allies to stop talking to the feds. Trump’s tweet earlier this week praising former adviser Roger Stone for refusing to testify mirrored Hannity’s radio pitch. (Most of those who have cooperated, it’s worth repeating, have done so not because they’re snitching but because Mueller had them on other criminal charges.)
The additional irony, of course, is that Hannity brushed off Hill’s comparison to Gonzales as being an unfair comparison between defending a criminal and “somebody who defends someone politically."
That line can itself get blurry.