by Eric Ginsburg

News and views from inside the media bubble  by Eric Ginsburg


To police they are confidential informants, to many they are snitches and to Sarah Stillman, they are “the throwaways.” In an article in the New Yorker this week, Stillman chronicles the use and abuse of informants by police departments throughout the country, focusing on the deadly situations some low-level offenders have been caught in after attempting to reduce their charges by working with the police.

Stillman outlines the lack of protection, oversight and accountability of the program nationwide, highlighting several stories like Jeremy McLean in Washington, whose parents repeatedly warned the police that someone planned to kill their son for cooperating. The police didn’t listen, McLean’s parents said, and unfortunately the threat was real — a heroin trafficker killed Jeremy, later bragging on the stand that he did the world a favor by eliminating a snitch.

Stillman tells the story of Rachel Hoffman in Florida, whose parents and a pro bono lawyer were able to get Rachel’s Law passed for changes in the rules around the use of untrained civilians as confidential informants, particularly in high-risk situations. The stories in the article are heart wrenching, like Shelly Hilliard who was mutilated and killed in Detroit after helping with police because they caught her with half an ounce of marijuana.

“Now I lost my baby for an ounce of weed,” Hilliard’s mother told the New Yorker. “It’s like they just threw her away.”