COLUMBIA — Damien Doxley lives by an unflinching code. And in his world, violating the law of the streets by cooperating with police makes someone fit for public shame, humiliation and ridicule — his own family members included.
An 11-year stint in Missouri prisons for drug trafficking and weapons possession turned Doxley straight. So did the birth of his two young sons, with a third child on the way. But Doxley, who now works for a catering company, still clings to the values acquired when he was "in the game." And thanks to social networking sites, his message is being heard by far more followers than in the days before he was locked up.
"When you get into the street life there's a code," he said. "People who get into the life shouldn't violate that code. I believe in that code even though I'm not in the street life anymore."
Doxley started his "No More Snitching" Facebook page to call out those who he feels betrayed that unwritten pact, including a now-disowned cousin whom he accuses of setting up his aunt and other family members sentenced to prison in 2009 as part of a federal conspiracy case against a central Missouri gang known as the Cut Throats.
The page was recently shut down by Facebook after just a few weeks for violating the company's service terms but not before it gained nearly 1,100 online friends. Undeterred, Doxley simply took his message to his personal Facebook page and a Twitter account.
Police and prosecutors in cities from Baltimore and Philadelphia to Kansas City and Los Angeles have wrestled with the "Stop Snitching" movement for the better part of the past decade. The ethos has been glorified in rap lyrics, YouTube videos, T-shirts worn in courtrooms and most famously, in a 2004 DVD featuring a cameo by NBA star Carmelo Anthony (who later called his appearance a joke).
Yet, the ability to spread that message through social media instead of on the street corner is causing a new wave of concern within a law enforcement community that continues to struggle with ways to convince ordinary citizens to put themselves at risk by sharing information about crimes they witness.
Before his Facebook page was shut down, Doxley published the photos of at least 70 people he identified as snitches, along with snippets of police reports and court documents as well as his own summaries of the purported offense.
"She set up a good man for trying to feed his children on a (drug) sales case," one description read. "She is not a racist. She snitches on all people equally."
Doxley, 34, portrays his actions as a free speech issue, with the material he's compiled publicly available from other online sources. Columbia police don't buy that explanation.
"It's pretty clear what the motivation is," said Sgt. Jill Schlude, spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department. "To encourage people to not cooperate with the police, and to point out people who have cooperated and degrade them. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what conclusions this person is drawing."
"The folks who are on the site now, I doubt they feel safe," she added.
Schlude said her department had not received any reports from people who were identified on the "No More Snitching" page. Nor had Boone County prosecutor Dan Knight, who noted that online interference with ongoing cases could result in charges of witness tampering or harassment.
"The problem is when we have individuals who witness crimes and they do not cooperate, there's a greater likelihood that they will not be brought to justice, and the cycle of violence will just continue," he said. "The way to stop this violence is by settling our issues in courthouses, rather than on the streets."
The Associated Press attempted to contact several people listed on Doxley's page who could not be reached for comment.
Police in some cities, including Boston, San Diego, Seattle and Miami, are also embracing more digital tools, with agencies allowing citizens to anonymously report crimes through cellphone text messages. In Columbia, police continue to rely primarily on the Crime Stoppers telephone tip line, though Schlude said her department is exploring more advanced technology.
Still, based on favorable comments posted on his Facebook page, Doxley feels like he is winning the public opinion battle. He talks of his efforts as a social movement and plans to hold a "No More Snitching" barbecue for his friends and supporters.
"I'm hoping we get to the point where someone says the word 'snitch' to my grandkids, and they're confused and don't know what the word is," he said. "Enough is enough. This just needs to stop."
That Doxley has managed to turn cooperating with police into a moral question troubles criminal justice advocates.
"The world outside these neighborhoods has no idea of the extent to which the norms there have gotten to the point that even what we have always thought of as good people — law-abiding, upright citizens — have come to subscribe to this core idea that if you're a good person, you don't cooperate with law enforcement," said David Kennedy, director of the Center on Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
That attitude represents a shift, Kennedy said. For many, the code of the streets is now the code of the neighborhood, period. And the condemnation of snitching, in turn, often extends beyond the hustlers and dealers Doxley said he targets.
"You can be a perfectly upright citizen, and your husband gets shot. In the old days, talking to the cops about that wasn't snitching," Kennedy said. "These days increasingly it is."
Doxley said that while he once considered anyone who talks to police to be a snitch, he has since drawn a distinction.
"If you're a law-abiding citizen and see a murder, and you feel that it's your duty to report that, I don't consider it snitching," he said. "But if you're living the street life, playing gangster or playing thug and you get caught and tell on anyone for any reason, that's snitching."