They say your clothes make a statement. In this case, the statement is boldly displayed across the chest of students at Mashpee High School in Massachusetts.
After four bomb threats, one fire, and the destruction of 48 lockers at the Cape Cod high school in the last several weeks, some students at the high school are taking matters into their own hands by wearing T-shirts that say "Start Snitching."
"Seventy seniors wore them to school today," Principal Ira Brown said. "It is their way of saying, 'Do the right thing, and we also support those kids who came forward.'"
Seniors at the high school created the T-shirts in response to other students on campus who wore T-shirts saying "Stop Snitching."
"Some of our kids said, 'Wait a minute, that's wrong,'" said Brown, who had put the school in "lockdown mode" as a result of the threats.
The day after Brown offered a $100 reward for information on the incidents, several students came to school wearing "Stop Snitching" T-shirts, which aim to discourage students, in a threatening fashion, from talking to authorities about what they might know about past and future campus violence. Brown said other students were bothered by this and wanted to create a climate of support.
Today was the first day students wore the "Start Snitching" T-shirts. The shirts have an image of a traffic light with the words "Start Snitching" written into the green light.
As a result of the shirts, some students have already come forward with information. Brown said those students did so only after word of the encouraging T-shirts had spread. Some students said they were afraid to come forward because of the potential repercussions, he said.
"[The senior students] are saying that in a society this is what you should be doing, you should be doing the right thing," Brown said. "They have let those values bloom."
Still, other students are still wearing the opposing "Stop Snitching" shirts at Mashpee. They have been asked to take them off or turn them inside out for the remainder of the day.
One student wearing a "Snitches Get Stitches" shirt told Brown he understood that what he was wearing was threatening. He then turned his shirt inside out.
While the "Start Snitching" shirts are new to the scene, "Stop Snitching" T-shirts have created a buzz on campuses in the last few years. Students started wearing them to schools around the country to discourage students from "tattling" on fellow students for a wide range of dangerous and often violent acts.
Late last year, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino began a campaign to get stores to stop selling the controversial "Stop Snitching" T-shirts. The mayor, along with other critics of the shirts, said it was creating a culture of fear.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Boston police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole discouraged the mayor, saying his actions infringed upon free-speech rights. A few stores voluntarily stopped carrying the shirts.
Curbing Campus Violence
The "Start Snitching" T-shirts are a new approach, but it's nothing new for school administrators and students around the country to take matters of campus safety into their own hands.
At McLane Middle School in Brandon, Fla., administrators have developed a program called "Silence Hurts," which encourages students to speak up when they hear a classmate make threatening remarks. The campaign aims to teach youngsters that warning others about potential violence makes them heroes, not "snitches."
That may have been true last month for students from Warroad High School in Warroad, Minn., who reported violent Internet threats against a female student. Some believe it may have prevented a deadly shooting.
Chat-room transcripts obtained by ABC affiliate WDAZ in Grand Forks, N.D., read: "I will bring a gun to school. … My grandpa does have a 44 mag and I will bring it to school." The student asked others whether they wanted to see another school shooting. Another student said, "I'm going to beat the hell out of you before I kill myself."
Other students in the chat then asked the threatening students to stop the intimidation. One even threatened to call police. Two students have since been charged in the incident.
Back in Mashpee, Brown said he hoped the new T-shirts would continue to encourage students to "start snitching" so he could stop violence.
"Now it's about getting information," he said.