This is a tough one. Boston store owner Antonio Ennis has decided to stop selling the "Stop Snitching" t-shirts.
Mayor Menino had threatened to send city inspectors in to demand that the shirts be removed from the shelves, and to follow up with some kind of vague future action if they were not.
He shouldn't have done that. That's intimidation, and a violation of everyone's right to free speech. What was gained by doing this? Will people stop saying "Stop Snitching" just because they can't buy a shirt that says it? Will the number of future homicides go down even if they did stop saying it?
These shirts are making a political statement. Not that everyone who buys them is making a statement. I heard Ennis interviewed on the radio saying that the majority of the buyers were white suburban kids. They have become fashionable novelties. But they do express a political feeling that is really out there.
I don't think that many people stay "Stop Snitching" because they want to be able to kill people without getting caught. They might say it because they don't trust the police. They might see the police as the villains in their community. It's not going to help matters to send the very same police in to confiscate the shirts. The police need to stop insisting on their good-guyness and start trying to figure out why it is that some neighborhoods have people who feel they are better off looking out for their own, without the help of the police, and who see the police as part of the problem.
In other bad news for free speech, this town in New Jersey is considering a No-Knock ordinance, which would be like a Do-Not-Call registry for your front door. The article only talks about salespeople, but it probably applies to canvassers from nonprofits as well. It would require people knocking on doors to be fingerprinted and have their records run before they are issued a permit.
I used to do door-to-door fundraising, and this is something that really bothers me. In the interests of preventing some scams and preventing people's dinners from being interrupted, we are shutting down public space. Isn't being able to go out and approach people about political issues an important part of democracy? If nobody can call you and nobody can knock on your door, how do you expect to find out when there's trouble? Preventing organizations who raise money at the grassroots level from doing that also favors organizations who raise money from and therefore serve large, corporate donors.