Thursday, October 11, 2007


The foolishness of believing a myth

Some myths are harder to dispel than others. Some myths are so ingrained in the collective conscience that they can never be totally dispelled while other myths, for whatever reasons, seem to have some utility; they function within our societal sea as buoys serving as markers. These myths as markers range from the simply benign to the dangerously erroneous. But, they hold things together somehow in some places.

One popular myth particularly strong in our present day youth culture is an offshoot of an old myth that was actually not completely myth at all. There was a time, for better or worse, in certain segments of society, some subcultures, among certain ethnic groups, a true and time honored “Code of Silence”. This was particularly relevant to those involved in criminal activity but, back in the 40’s, 50’s and ‘60’s, this code transcended the sub sub cultures and was a living force to be reckoned with in some neighborhoods. “There is nothing worse than being a rat”, was something learned in my Bronx, New York neighborhood very early on.

La Costra Nostra, the Mafia or whatever one cares to call that particular organization, did in fact abide by a strict and rigorously enforced code of honor a fundamental principal of which was the “Code of Silence”. The Sicilian word “Omerta” means just that. Loyalty to family and friends was paramount: any violation of the code could be (and often was) fatal. These were the days there were men known as “standup guys”. These were crooks who got busted and “took the rap” alone, without ever betraying their accomplices, cohorts or associations. This truly meant something because it represented true character and adherence to the “Code”. The Italian Mafia once had such a stringent code that family members were off limits when it came to retribution, that no one would ever even think of harming a family member or killing a cop. Many a Mafioso kept their mouth shut to spend decades in prison rather than “rat”.

There is no judgment in these facts, they are what they are. Each person can decide the ethical complexities and moral dilemmas tangential to the “code” for themselves.

Those days of standup guys and the like are long gone. Not only are they long gone they only existed for a relatively short period of time among certain extraordinarily close knit groups. Every cop has know for centuries that there is “no honor among thieves”. Never has been, never will be. In 1989 Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, he of such a ruthless reputation, turned rat on his Boss, John Gotti. Arguably, this one defection was the beginning of the end for the Mafia as it was once comprised in New York City. Certainly there were other defections and rats before Sammy “The Rat”, but he is a prime example of what can happen when reality crowds in. No code or ritual, “no blood-in, blood-out” mentality is sufficient when a man is facing the death sentence or life in prison. Sammy was reportedly so terrified of being incarcerated that he trembled and shook as NYPD Detectives and FBI Organized Crime Task Force Agents recorded his manic confessions, admissions and vital information.

What has been the bastard offspring of this behavioral relic has surfaced in the youth culture particularly as depicted in movies, music and television programs. The idea that “you just don’t rat” may sound tough and viable until the heat is on. Literally. Once arrests are made, everyone is scrambling to be the first to “cop a plea”. That is the way part of our criminal justice system is designed. Throw away a smaller fish to catch the big one. Mete out a lesser punishment for a cooperating witness and the harshest sentences for the higher ups.

It is strange that the myth of the code of silence is as pervasive as it is today despite overwhelming proof, hard evidence, that it is simply hollow bravado, , meaningless bluster and simply not in practice. Just ask former Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick. Here he was, a multimillionaire NFL star who literally and figuratively supported a cast of characters, his “Posse”, who vicariously lived through him and parasitically lived off him. Once the Bad Newz Kennels were raided and Vick arrested on various dogfighting charges, the members of his “Posse”, (his codefendants), were stumbling over each other to see which one could “cut a deal’ first. So much for the code of silence, right Michael? We have seen this played out in the media among famous people as often as it is played out nightly in police stations and precinct houses across the country by the not so famous, the downright down and out and the general dregs of society. Still, there are those young and dumb enough to actually believe in it and they will, most likely, if involved in nefarious activities, pay one hell of a price. And they should.

This subject comes to mind today due to the hyperbolic media coverage of the school shooting at Success Tech High in Cleveland, Ohio. Some of the students interviewed in the wake of the shooting spree expressed the thought that they may have known something was up but, hey, you just don’t tell. Police officers in communities diverse and disparate across the country run into the “didn’t see nuthin’, don’t know nuthin’” syndrome day in and day out. Certainly there is a more complex sociological dynamic at play in some of these cases included generations of police mistrust, disdain and hostility for any law enforcement agency, fear of reprisals, deportation or having their own criminality revealed. In no way is it implied here that this is not a very emotionally, racially, ethnically and class charged phenomenon. But, sadly, for all, it serves no purpose. It is also illogical on its face, it is the most childish reaction to often legitimate police irregularities and legitimate community issues. However, one perpetuates the other and therein we have this snake eating his tail, a never ending cycle of mistrust, silence, anger, harsher police tactics, more anger, silence and on and on.

The fact of the matter is that ANYONE will rat on ANYONE given specific circumstances. The most notorious of the notorious of mobsters, gangsters, thugs, gang bangers and just plain crooks and mopes have ALL “ ratted out”.

The grossly irresponsible Black Entertainment Network (BET) regularly airs a series entitled ‘Original Ganstas’. Each episode epitomizes, idolizes and glorifies some punk, thug or goon who made it “big” in the drug trade, prostitution, extortion, gambling or other criminal endeavor. Many of these “BET Heroes” have blood on their hands and their negative impact within their own neighborhoods and communities is lost in the telling of the tale. Allegedly, as the producers of this crap will claim, each episode tells that the “moral” of the story is “crime doesn’t pay”. What they should emphatically and dramatically highlight in these episodes are the harsh facts that even the baddest motherfuckers who ever walked the streets of Compton, South Philly, Harlem, Bed-Stuy, The South Bronx or East LA ALL sold out everyone and anyone they could once they were caught.

The real and lasting legacy of scum such as these “gangstas” is that they were criminals, cowards and betrayed any trust ever placed in them.

So, we find ourselves today in a conundrum: teens believing in and halfheartedly giving lip service to (and when convenient), practicing the principals of a myth that was more ephemeral yet tangible in reality “back in the day”, than today’s mutant variant could ever be. This is one myth that should be put to out to wither and die. How many more ignorant, barely literate, easily influenced, desperate to belong, gullible teens will buy into this load of shit only to learn the harsh reality of it all while staring up at a prison cell ceiling while growing old. They can think, while they are at it, why the boys they gave all their allegiance to are not themselves locked up. They took the plea, copped a deal and, walked away. They probably talk about the ceiling starer once in a while, laughing... ” fuckin’ sucker believed all that shit. He deserves to be in prison”.

Silence may be golden in church but...

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Copyright © 2007 BronxWest Consulting

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