Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • See 'The Interrupters'

    It's also worth knowing that black people don't simply "protest" violence in their communities, they often approach the very people doing the violence. Here's the trailer for The Interrupters, a film that captures black and brown people in Chicago, doing precisely the sort of work which people like Juan Williams should be applauding. 


    There's some talk that the problem is the media, in that they don't focus on stories like those brought forth in The Interrupters. I'm all for more media attention on the efforts like those in The Interrupters. But your ignorance is not the media's fault. If you make an affirmative claim--that no one protests violence in inner cities--without doing a rudimentary google search, the problem is your laziness, not the media's coverage.

    The Interrupters is on PBS's Frontline, streaming. Right now. Watch the film. If you do not know it's because you don't want to.

  • Why Don't Black People Protest 'Black-on-Black Violence'?

    Juan Williams asks a question that he could readily answer.

    Juan Williams offers a meme that we are seeing repeated in response to the widespread protests around Trayvon Martin:


    But what about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them? 
    This is an interesting question. It's also one that Juan Williams, who's been writing about race for almost three decades, should be able to answer. Moreover, Williams is an award-winning journalist. Should he not know the answer, it would suit him to do his job and find out.  

    No matter. 


    HARLEM -- New York public leaders, community organizations and residents gathered Sunday to celebrate the 42nd annual African American Day Parade in Harlem. One focal point of the march was to attenuate the looming violence in neighboring and citywide communities. 

    The march took place on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., extending from 111th St. to 135th St., summoning New York dignitaries such as Rev. Al Sharpton, U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, New York Police Department Commissioner Kelly Raymond, city council members Robert Jackson, Inez Dickens, and assemblyman Keith Wright. The NAACP, the National Action Network, and other organizations joined leaders in celebrating the achievements of the African American community, and reflect on its culture in the 21st century America... 

    The stream of consciousness regarding violence in the community permeated the street. A banner from State Senator Bill Perkins read, "Drop The Guns! Stop The Violence"--which evoked passionate responses from onlookers.

    This is Pittsburgh last September:

    [The] Stop the Violence rally was a peaceful, entertaining and uplifting event that felt like a family reunion. The message of stopping the violence was loud and clear throughout the whole day and the Thomas family wants everyone to take that message home every day, not just for one day out of the year. 

    This was the 10th annual rally Loaf and Cynthia Thomas have sponsored and hosted every September 11 in response to the attack on America and the senseless acts of violence that occur in the Hill District and other "hoods" in the city of Pittsburgh and throughout the country.

    A year after his death, the memory of 9-year-old Devin Elliott and other victims of violence in Saginaw continues to motivate residents to take back their streets, the Rev. Larry D. Camel says. 

    "We're not going to tolerate kids getting killed in our streets any longer," said Camel, co-founder of faith-based anti-violence community organization Parishioners on Patrol. Camel said he hopes at least 500 people participate in a second Stop the Violence March at 10 a.m. Saturday in Saginaw. 

     Last fall, Parishioners on Patrol organized a Stop the Violence rally and march that attracted 150 people, a response to 22 shootings in Saginaw resulting in three deaths.

    Dorie Miller Housing Development residents were reluctant to join a protest march Saturday afternoon, but eventually, more than 50 people congregated in front of a makeshift memorial where 19-year-old Andre Blissitt of Indianapolis was shot and killed Tuesday night. 

    Blissitt was visiting his mother, Timiko Blissitt, and sister, Nakita Muex, when he was caught in a shooting spree in the complex. Muex, 21, didn't have the words to describe the pain she and her mother feel. 

    "This was my only brother," she said quietly into the megaphone. "Now, it's just me and my momma, and it hurts."

    Hundreds of protestors marched through Fort Greene on Palm Sunday to protest three shootings in the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses that resulted in two deaths last month. "It needs to stop," said Linda Simpson, resident of the nearby Farragut Houses, and one of the marchers. 

    Residents of the housing developments blame drugs and disconnected youth for a body count in the 88th Precinct that's already equal to the number of murders reported in all of 2011. "It's black-on-black crime," said Monique Richardson, who grew up in the Farragut Houses. "It's been a downfall for the past 15 years. Now, you have to be in doors by 5 p.m. [to be safe]."
    That's just a sample.

    I came up in the era of Self-Destruction. I wrote a book largely about violence in black communities. The majority of my public experiences today are about addressing violence in black communities. I can not tell you how scared black parents are for their kids, and whatever modest success of my book experienced, most of it hinged on the great worry that black mothers feel for their sons. 

    There is a kind of sincere black person who really would like to see even more outrage about violence in black communities. I don't think outrage will do it at this point, but I respect the sincere feeling. 

    And then there are pundits who write more than they read, and talk more than they listen, and prefer an easy creationism to a Google search.
  • 'Trayvon-Like Dudes'

    Watching people drag somebody's dead child through the mud is too much for me.

    The Times reconstructs the events that led up to Trayvon Martin. In the course of doing so it interviews Frank Taaffe, who's defended George Zimmerman actions in the past:


    Adding to the uncertainty and flux was the sense among some residents that this secured community was no longer so secure. There had been burglaries; at least seven in 2011, according to police reports. Strangers had started showing up, said Frank Taaffe, 55, a marketing specialist, originally from the Bronx, who works out of his home in the Retreat. He made it clear that he was not talking about just any strangers. 

    "There were Trayvon-like dudes with their pants down," Mr. Taaffe said.
    As the father of a black boy, this is chilling. Frank Taaffe has no real way of knowing how Trayvon Martin wore his pants. I doubt that he much cares. 

    What amazes is the casualness of the racism, a casualness which does not see black boys as boys at all--but an indistinguishable super-predators in waiting. "Trayvon-like dudes."

    This is my last post on this subject, until I hear something definitive. Watching people drag somebody's dead child through the mud is too much for me. 
  • On the Age and Innocence of Trayvon Martin

    trayvon-martin-family-photos-4.jpg

    One meme which we've encountered in the comments section here and other places, is this notion that the media is using pictures old pictures to deceptively paint Trayvon Martin as a child. I can't date every picture that's out there. But we do have pictures of Trayvon Martin nine days before he was killed, out celebrating his mother's birthday. Mother's Day. 

    The one above is one you might select to reflect your message that Martin was, indeed, a child. This message is actually true. I guess you could accuse Martin's parents of sinisterly selecting a photo which reflects well on their son. But what you can't really accuse them of is intentionally trying to deceive you by lowering the kids age. There's very little difference--if any--between that picture above and the one we've seen on protest signs everywhere. There are other pictures which do look much different--a fact which simply proves that Martin, like many homo sapiens, appears different when subjected to the instruments and angles of photography.

    It's worth pointing that I have yet to see a single citation, matching age and photos, to back up the claim that we are all captives to dastardly manipulative plot. Even so, all it would prove is that we've seen a variety of photos of Trayvon Martin. 

    In this business, it is always best to speak to the purveyors of such arguments, in their native tongue. To wit: 

    I'm sorry that Trayvon Martin's actual appearance obstructs your inalienable right to scandalize children. That you must are forced into cartwheels, and rendered ridiculous, all in the laudable quest to justify bias is the true tragedy, one which pales when compared to an actual death. If I have in any way, contributed to your travails, I hope that some day you will be wise enough, or simply human enough, to forgive.
  • Cruelty

    More thoughts on Trayvon Martin's email being hacked



    As noted below, the attack on the memory of Trayvon Martin began with the exposure of his twitter feed, proceeded apace to the selective posting of pictures, moved with great energy to the faking of pictures, and has now found its natural terminus in unbridled white supremacy:

    In addition to the Facebook messages, Klanklannon posted a list of usernames and passwords for Martin's social media and email accounts as proof of his exploits. All of the passwords had been changed to racist slurs. (Gmail: "niggerniggernigger" Twitter: "coontrayvonnigger")
    No one should be surprised by this. Necromancy never ends well. 

    Among the many reasons I hoped Barack Obama would not weigh in on Martin's death, was the sense that for racists--closeted and otherwise--it would represent an escalation. By making the obvious plain--that the president is black, and that the days of small town justice are at an end--I thought he would invite the full brunt of racist bile to be heaped, not upon the president, but upon the parents of Trayvon Martin. What I forgot was that racists need no reason to justify themselves. They are what they their actions say they are. 

    I would not withhold the life of Trayvon Martin from scrutiny and investigation. When someone claims a vicious assault upon their person--as George Zimmerman has--it is only intelligent to investigate the relevant background of the alleged assailant. It certainly is relevant to ask what, precisely, Martin was suspended for. It surely is important to ask if Martin had a history of violence.Whether or not Martin had a criminal record, most certainly is pertinent.

    But what, precisely, is the relevance of wearing gold grills? What, specifically, is the pertinence of having once given an obscene gesture? Why, exactly, does it matter that Martin's imagination sometimes ranged into profane thoughts of sex and violence?  How does any of this help us understand his killing at the hands of by George Zimmerman?

    It does not--unless you believe that the fact that Martin once gave a middle finger to a camera somehow proves that he is the sort of person who would saunter up to a man who outweighs by nearly 100 pounds, summon the powers of Thor, deck the man with one-shot, and stove him against concrete. We do not draw such conclusions from most teenagers, or even most people. That those who see nothing wrong with labeling a black man as a "Food Stamp President," would draw them in the case of young black boy cannot be dismissed as coincidental. 

    The Daily Caller is published by Tucker Carlson. Tucker Carlson is a man who once informed us, on national television, that he'd assaulted a gay man for subjecting him to the sort of treatment which nearly all of women-kind experiences hourly. This is not the assumption of a violent handle, or the quotation of rap lyrics it is the admitted commission of actual violence. Moreover, it's the kind of violence that's routinely dismissed as pathological in black boys, as well as the kind that had it ever been committed by Trayvon Martin would immediately serve as irrefutable evidence that he deserved to slaughtered in the street. 

    It's worth discerning the subtle differences between the  actions of The Daily Caller, Michelle Malkin and Stormfront. But it's also worth seeing their actions as they are--points on the continuum of racism delineating the cloaked and covert from the naked and profane. 

    It is cruelty to sneer at the unguarded thoughts of dead children. But it is the specific cruelty of racism that prevents so many from ever seeing Martin as a child. 
  • Today

    The shaming of Trayvon Martin for being a human teenager has gone from the selective posting of pictures, to the posting of fake pictures, to now just hacking his e-mail.

    Yeesh. 832 comments can't ever be good. I'm still in New Haven. Will be back on the job this afternoon. Evidently the shaming of Trayvon Martin for being a human teenager has gone from the selective posting of pictures, to the posting of fake pictures, to now just hacking his e-mail. What really hurts isn't what they posted, it's what they didn't:


    A screenshot of Trayvon's Gmail inbox our source provided us is heartbreaking. Martin apparently used his Gmail account for his college search, and it's filled with emails about upcoming SAT tests and scholarship applications. ("Trayvon, now is the best time to take the SATs!") One email included the results of a career aptitude test, our source said. It "talked about his interest in aeronautics and stuff."
    I think it was Wyatt Cenac who said last week, if we changed out of the hoodie they'd just change it to something else. That's all I have for now. The train to Harlem says "All-Aboard." As though I have a choice.
  • New Video of George Zimmerman at the Police Station

    From ABC News:


    A police surveillance video taken the night that Trayvon Martin was shot dead shows no blood or bruises on George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who says he shot Martin after he was punched in the nose, knocked down and had his head slammed into the ground. 

    The surveillance video, which was obtained exclusively by ABC News, shows Zimmerman arriving in a police cruiser. As he exits the car, his hands are cuffed behind his back. Zimmerman is frisked and then led down a series of hallways, still cuffed.

    You can see the video at the site. I don't have much to say here. He doesn't look like someone whose had their head bashed into the concrete. But perhaps I'm missing something.


    Also, Trayvon Martin's parents offered the official explanation given by the Sanford police:

    According to Tracy Martin, the Sanford, Fla., detective recounted this sequence of events: Trayvon Martin walked up to Zimmerman's vehicle and asked why he was following him. Zimmerman denied following the youth and rolled up the car window. 

    Minutes after Trayvon walked away, Zimmerman got out of his vehicle. Then came the second encounter, according to Tracy Martin's recollection of the detective's account. Trayvon Martin appeared from behind a building in Zimmerman's gated community, approached him and demanded, "What's your problem, homie?" 

    When Zimmerman replied that he didn't have a problem, Martin said, "You do now." The unarmed teenager hit Zimmerman, knocked him to the ground, pinned him down and told him to "shut the [expletive] up."

    During the beating, Zimmerman pulled his gun and fired one shot at close range into Martin's chest. "You got me," the teenager said, falling backward.
    This smells to high heaven. What I can't understand is why the police would offer this explanation, given that it's directly contradicted by the 911 tapes. What, precisely, is going on with the cops down there?
  • The Horde on Health Care



    Above, Romney talks to Leno about health care. This was very helpful, in that Leno got him to pretty much state he believes insurance companies should be able to deny you based on pre-existing conditions.

    Anyway, while it's not really my beat, I imagine that a lot of you want to go at it about health care. Consider this your space. Nothing to the face, please.
  • Toward a More Cynical Black Homophobia

    The National Organization for Marriage's plan to use gay marriage as a wedge issue with voters is precisely what we expected.

    Via Andrew, the National Organization for Marriage, doing precisely what we expected:


    "Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots," advises the document, which is a road map to the successful campaign against same-sex marriage in California. 

    The document also targets Hispanic voters, whom conservatives have long hoped would join the backlash against gay rights. "The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote, and will be so even more so in the future, both because of demographic growth and inherent uncertainty: Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values?" the document asks. "We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity - a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation."

    To be clear, this is politics and there's nothing particularly sinister about attempting to drive a wedge between two constituencies. As a liberal commie, who generally thinks Adam and Steve is actually kind of awesome, I always differentiate between using bigotry as a wedge and using tax proposals as a wedge. 

    Moreover, I think right-wingers frequently misconstrue the way social conservatism works in the black community. Social conservatism has rarely been a strong electoral force in the black community. It's likely, for instance, true that marriage equality is more popular among black members of the D.C. city council than it is among their constituents. But it isn't the kind of electoral issue that's going to get anyone voted out.

    Part of that lack of salience is that black voters tend to be skeptical of white social conservatives, as they tend to hail from the sort of constituencies which see nothing wrong with labeling Barack Obama the "Food Stamp President." As this document demonstrates, their suspicions are well-grounded. Note that blacks and Latinos are generally regarded as a kind of pawn in a greater game of "Throw The Gay Down The Well." The "assimilation" theory is just nutty--but dig how there's no real regard for whether that "assimilation" will be good or bad for Latinos, just whether it would be good or bad for homophobes.
  • The Case to Be Made Against George Zimmerman

    It will not be an easy one. I received the following note from a former homicide prosecutor in Florida. He is responding to the latest account given, in which Trayvon Martin, evidently for kicks, decks Zimmerman with one punch and starts ramming his head into the concrete:


    A couple of thoughts: 

    1.) I don't believe Mr. Zimmerman's story (presuming that what is in the report is truly what he told the police), but more importantly, 

    2.) What prosecutors believe is not nearly as important as what they can prove. I can not stress this enough, and my mind is about to explode with all of nonsense being written about what the government can and cannot do. It is up to the government, not anyone else, to prove that Zimmerman is lying. 

    The "self-defense" defense is one of the most difficult defenses for prosecutors to overcome, and the Florida statutes actually give immunity to individuals who believe that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent what they believed was imminent death or great bodily harm. I know you've seen the actual statute (Fla. Stat. 776.013) but here is the relevant section 

    (3): A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. (emphasis mine). 
    Note, whether the use of force is reasonable rests in the mind of the accused, and the accused need not fear that death is imminent, only great bodily harm. This is a critical detail that almost all of MSNBC is overlooking. 

    What Zimmerman did was bullshit, and he should be held accountable. But under the events he allegedly described to the police, the prosecution is going to need some strong evidence that Zimmerman is lying, not about small details but about the essence of the fatal encounter, if they wish to charge him. That could come from forensic evidence or the 911 calls, but short of that, Zimmerman will be presumed innocent.
    We are now hearing reports that the police originally wanted to charge Zimmerman, but was waived off. This account is really at odds with everything Bill Lee said, and with his demeanor throughout the investigation.

    Nevertheless, I think it's worth understanding how difficult it is going to be to prosecute Zimmerman. The point about reasonable use of force resting "in the mind of the accused" is really key.

    But with that said I'm left with still more questions. For instance:

    (2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if: 

    (a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or 

    (b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;
    I presume this to mean one's home, or one's vehicle, not a public street. But does a "gated community" qualify as a "dwelling?" I don't know. But whatever one thinks of the investigation, this is a really, really bad law which essentially incentivizes the Wild West. Again, had Trayvon Martin been older and armed this case could look a lot different.
  • How Not to Protest the Killing of Trayvon Martin

    Nothing concerning the effort to bring justice to the family of Trayvon Martin involves disseminating the personal information of a Florida elderly couple.

    Whenever there's a brutality claim against a police officer, or a brutality claim made against  someone who thinks they are an officer, it's fairly common to see that person's math published on the internet. It happened in this comment section here when a UC Davis security officer pepper-sprayed a group of protesters last November.


    There are many reasons why this is a bad idea. Among them, as is the case in most vigilantism, you well might miss your target and clip someone else. To wit:

    With Twitter and Facebook continuing to explode with posts purporting to contain the address of George Zimmerman, property records and interviews reveal that the home is actually the longtime residence of a married Florida couple, both in their 70s, who have no connection to the man who killed Trayvon Martin and are now living in fear due to erroneous reports about their connection to the shooter. 

    The mass dissemination of the address on Edgewater Circle in Sanford -- the Florida city where Martin was shot to death last month--took flight last Friday when director Spike Lee retweeted a tweet containing Zimmerman's purported address to his 240,000 followers. 

    The original tweet was sent to Lee (and numerous other celebrities like Will Smith, 50 Cent, and LeBron James) last Friday afternoon by Marcus Davonne Higgins, a 33-year-old Los Angeles man who uses the online handle "maccapone." Higgins included the direction, "EVERYBODY REPOST THIS."

    Higgins's dissemination of Zimmerman's purported Edgewater Circle address was not, however, limited to cyberspace. At a protest rally last Thursday in an L.A. park near his Crenshaw home, Higgins held a sign containing Zimmerman's name, address, and phone number. 

     Except, of course, none were accurate. The man who shot Martin is George Michael Zimmerman. Higgins has repeatedly identified him as "George W. Zimmerman." 

    The residence on Edgewater Circle is actually the home of David McClain, 72, and his wife Elaine, 70. The McClains, both of whom work for the Seminole County school system, have lived in the 1310-square-foot lakefront home for about a decade, records show.
    The elderly couple is now, with good reason, living in fear that some nut-job will pay them a visit. It goes without saying that mass protest will always attract it share of fools, some of them potentially violent. But such fools should be loudly and forthrightly denounced. This goes for Higgins, and it goes for those who would bounty on George Zimmerman's head, and thus answer the problem of vigilantism with more vigilantism. (The fate of "new" Black Panther who set the bounty is unsurprising.)

    Nothing concerning the effort to bring justice to the family of Trayvon Martin involves disseminating the personal information of a Florida elderly couple. That it was done by mistake is likely of no comfort to them. 
  • Afternoon Cordial

    As I make my way through the French language, I've been watching a ton of flicks mostly to work on my hearing. Again, I've been rather shocked by how much learning a language really means. Being able to hear and understand French isn't the same as being able to read French which isn't the same as being able to write French which isn't the same being able to speak in French. I've actually found "hearing" to be one of the most difficult, but the more movies I watch, the better I get.


    A few points arise from this avocation. First, I did not realize that "I'm in love with Juliet Binoche and\or (in my case "and" always "and") Audrey Tatou" was a normal phase for the Francophone in training. I imagine thers is an accompanying "I'm in love with Romain Duris or (Gad Elmaleh or Roschdy Zem  if you are my wife)"  for those of another gender or orientation.

    Second, it's one thing to intellectually understand the power of American music. It's another thing to see how much it just dominates in a lot of french films. It's really weird to go into a film where no one speaks English, and suddenly hear this burst of Otis Redding or, in this case, Oscar Brown Jr (remixed.)

    This is from Hors de Prix, which I enjoyed. It is kind of a modern homage to Breakfast At Tiffany's. I was only familiar with Abby Lincoln's haunting rendition of this. Brown's is just as beautiful.


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