Code of silence

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A code of silence is a condition in effect when a person opts to withhold what is believed to be vital or important information voluntarily or involuntarily.

The code of silence is usually either kept because of threat of force, or danger to oneself, or being branded as a traitor or an outcast within the unit or organization as the experiences of the police whistleblower, Frank Serpico illustrates. Police are known to have a well-developed Blue Code of Silence. The code of silence was famously practiced in Irish-American neighborhoods in Boston, Massachusetts such as Charlestown, South Boston, and Somerville. Dan Goldberg and Danny Ben Moshe won Australia’s most prestigious journalism award, the Walkley Documentary Award for “Code of Silence,” which covers the fight for an investigation into allegations of child sex abuse at Yeshivah College, an all-male Orthodox Jewish school. It portrays the experiences of an Orthodox Jewish father and his son, after the son breaks the code of silence in Melbourne's Orthodox community and goes public with his story of being sexually abused as a student.[1][2]An Orthodox Jewish concept of mesirah forbids Jews from reporting crimes to civil authorities and keeping them with the Jewish community instead.[3]

A more famous example of the code of silence is Omertà (Italian: omertà, from the Latin: humilitas=humility or modesty), the Mafia code of silence.

Code of Silence in law enforcement[edit]

The code of silence is often noted among police officers. This prevents a police officer from incriminating another officer for their wrongdoing. This behavior is done for a number of reasons including professional courtesy and trying to maintain the "good cop" facade. In terms of professional courtesy, it would be out of respect that an officer does not make a report for a rule or law that has been broken by another officer. While there are high social tensions between the community and the police force, the code of silence is used to maintain the solidarity among officers so it can appear that they are doing what is morally just in society. This is meant to protect them from the way in which they are critically viewed by the rest of society. Some officers abide by the code of silence out of fear. This fear stems from the possible punishment that can be faced including the loss of promotional opportunities as well as not receiving back up during a potentially dangerous call. For instance, in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, he was shot sixteen times by a police officer. It was believed that McDonald lunged at the officer with a knife. The officer that shot McDonald, Officer Van Dyke, argued that he shot him in self-defense. The officers at the scene also went along with this story, despite the fact that they saw the series of events occur.

Code of silence in urban neighborhoods[edit]

In urban communities, people abide by this code of silence in fear of retaliation. Those who have stepped out against crimes that have been committed have often been severely beaten, verbally threatened or even killed. Others have been excluded from the community or humiliated as well. Because of this, the death rates in crime ridden cities such as Chicago and Baltimore have remained at an all-time high. No one is willing to give tips that can potentially help the justice system target the criminal, allowing these criminals to go free and continue to kill more innocent people. The police are portrayed as the “enemy” due to the tensions between the police force and the minority community. Police have been known to target minority communities for crime, and these communities develop a hate toward law enforcement. Because of this, they do not see how it is beneficial to report the crimes that have been committed by criminals in their community.

See also[edit]


  • Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist "Code of silence corrodes morality, puts blacks at risk" (2010, July 23)
  • Board, Editorial. "Judgment day for Chicago's police code of silence". Retrieved 2016-12-02.