CBS4 News called the dead 20-year-old man a "snitch" and the Miami Herald intoned that he had "ratted out" a murderer. The question: Is that really the kind of language news organizations should use regarding police informants, especially those whose cooperation with authorities cost them their lives?
Friends and family believe Vilner Simon was killed outside a Miramar nightclub early Friday morning because he had informed police that 19-year-old Emmanuel Jean was responsible for the May killing of a store clerk during a robbery.
Anyone who has covered crimes in the hood knows how hard it is to get information. You get the old stone-face when you ask questions around a murder scene. For the great majority of stonefaces, it's not because they enjoy the violence and don't want anything done about it -- it's because they're scared
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stiff that what happened to Simon will happen to them. I always had great admiration for those who would even so much as offer details as an eye-witness.
So when the Maggie Rodriguez story on CBS4 is headlined "Herald: Miramar Club Shooting Victim Was A Snitch" and the Herald's story on which it was based casually notes that Simon had "ratted out" Jean, it is a little troubing. In quotes it's fine to use derogatory words for informants, of course, but I tend to agree with Rick at SoTP that it's irresponsible for news organizations to use those words in their own headlines and copy. Sure it might seem more hip to use the street terminology -- but it's only doing a disservice to, well, everyone, not least of all the dead man, who might be considered a hero for talking in the first place.
"If the media finds it absolutely necessary to disclose that someone is helping law enforcement in an investigation, how about giving those people a little bit of respect?" Rick writes. "It might actually help future informants feel a little better about coming forward with information that helps make our communities safer."