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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Snitches, Secret Combinations, and the Culture of Silence

by Saint Mark (bio)

Watching a public figure struggle to exhort gang members to share information with police and other legal authorities is painful. I fully support their pleadings, but to tackle an ideology of secrecy with only semiotic arguments does not seem to be the most effective approach.

So what is? How do you persuade a culture of silence to rat, snitch, backstab, double-cross and tell on each other when all they feel they have is one another?

It seems like an exercise in futility to approach situations like the following with only a speech:
Last year a Chicago mother was arrested after she allegedly drove her son and an accomplice to shoot a person they believed was a snitch.

The year before, a dying 17-year-old took the name of his killer to the grave.

"I know," Robert Tate reportedly said when asked if he knew who shot him in the chest, "but I ain't telling you."
What is the solution to crack the veil of secrecy of secret groups?

In The Book of Mormon, the prophets and people faced similar situations. However, in the scriptures, the word gangs was not used; instead, secret combinations was the term of choice.

When one reads about the effect the secret combinations had on ancient societies, the outlook is not promising:
And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi. (Helaman 2:13)

Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up. (Ether 8:24)

And they [secret combinations] have caused the destruction of this people of whom I am now speaking, and also the destruction of the people of Nephi. (Ether 8:21)
However, there is an account of how the community was able to overcome the secret combinations, or Gadianton robbers, as they were called. It's unorthodox and probably violates our Constitution but do with it as you will.

In order to overcome the gangs of their time, the people of Nephi gathered together, prayed to God for deliverance, heeded the warnings of their leaders, understood the ramifications if they did not root out the secret combinations, organized themselves, repented of their own sins, fortified themselves against their enemies, did not go on the offensive but prepared themselves for battle, and removed all possible plunder and sustenance from the secret combinations. See 3 Nephi Chapter 3-4.

Now, here's the unconstitutional part: once the people of Nephi captured members of the gangs, they imprisoned them and "did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty. But as many as there were who did not enter into a covenant, and who did still continue to have those secret murders in their hearts, yea, as many as were found breathing out threatenings against their brethren were condemned and punished according to the law." See 3 Nephi 5:4-5.

I don't know if it's permissible to forcibly preach the word of God unto prisoners today, but in ancient times it seemed to work:
And thus they did put an end to all those wicked, and secret, and abominable combinations, in the which there was so much wickedness, and so many murders committed. (3 Nephi 5:6)
So, how do we apply this situation to today?

Understanding the gravity and scope of the destruction that secret combinations like gangs can inflict upon a community and society is easy. So is praying and repenting. But, how do we "gather together" and "organize ourselves" against such an unseen but real force?

How do we "fortify ourselves" against secret combinations?

How do we "prepare ourselves for battle while not going on the offensive?"

How do we "remove all possible opportunities for plunder and sustenance" from secret combinations?

Obtaining the answers to these questions is key to putting an end to "all those wicked, and secret, and abominable combinations." Just as ancient cultures were forced to confront these issues, our response to the culture of silence today and in the future may determine our society's fate as well.

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