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. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

  • Dwight Howard Staying?

    Is the Orlando Magic's star center really staying put, or is he up to something else?

    From ESPN:

    Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard has told the team he is ready to sign away the early termination option on his contract and remain through 2012-13, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard confirmed...

    Magic spokesman George Galante confirmed the conference call to The Associated Press on Wednesday night after ESPN.com, citing sources with knowledge of the call, reported that Howard and agent Dan Fegan clarified their position with Magic CEO Alex Martins, owner Rich DeVos and other members of the DeVos family on the line. 

    But Howard told RealGM.com that he's having a hard time leaving Orlando, the only NBA city he's called home since entering the league out of high school. "Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando. ... I just can't leave it behind," Howard told RealGM.com.

    This could obviously change by the end of the day. 

    Also, feel free to speak on D'Antoni's firing. 
  • Morning Coffee

    Nothing goes with coffee quite like Lisa Stansfield.

    Here is Lisa Stansfield at The Apollo, but really it's The Apollo at Lisa Stansfield. As always with us, the crowd is the star and the star is just the medium. Note how intermittent chants of "Go Lisa!" break out. We were talking a few weeks ago in comments about these English cats with voices out of Detroit. Here's another one.

  • Trayvon Martin, Cont.

    Channel 9 in Sanford interviews one of the witnesses in the Martin killing who says the cops "blew us off."

    Channel 9 in Sanford interviews one of the witnesses in the Martin killing who says the cops "blew us off."

    "The cries stopped as soon as the gun went off, so I know it was the little boy," Cutcher said. Cutcher said a cry for help got her attention on the day Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in her backyard by Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood vigilante. Cutcher said that until now, she ignored repeated attempts by national and local media to share what she saw, partially out of fear. 

    "We said, 'Is everything OK? And he just looked at us. Selma [another witness] asked him again, 'What's up, what's going on, everything OK? And he just said, 'Call the police,' kind of nonchalantly, kind of like, 'Leave me alone,'" Cutcher said. 

    According to a partial police report, Cutcher is one of six witnesses that Sanford police took a statement from. Cutcher said it was short, and police never questioned her in detail until after she repeatedly reached out to them. 

    "Blew us off, and I called him back again and I said, "I know this was not self-defense. There was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling,'" Cutcher said. Cutcher said she believes whatever confrontation there was, it ended before they got to her backyard.

    More »

  • More on the Killing of Trayvon Martin

    The NAACP is asking for federal involvement:

    In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the NAACP expressed doubt in the Sanford Police Department and asked the Department of Justice to review the case. 

    "The NAACP has no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation. We therefore call upon you to detail personnel to Sanford immediately to review the facts, ensure that the Sanford Police Department conducts an impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of the circumstances involving the death of this unarmed teen, and ensure that the responsible person is held accountable if a crime was committed," the letter said.
    For more on the legalities of all this I recommend this thread from yesterday. My sense is that the law in Florida really opens the door for vigilantism. It doesn't do much good to cite law from around the country. Florida is rather particular.

    Also more on Zimmerman's arrest from 2005:
    Zimmerman has a single arrest. When he was a 21 and a UCF student, one of his friends was being arrested by state alcohol agents for serving underage drinkers, according to his arrest report. Zimmerman began talking to the suspect, and when agents ordered him to stop and tried to escort him away, he became profane and pushed the agent's hands, the report said. 

    "After a short struggle," the report said, Zimmerman was handcuffed and arrested. Prosecutors charged him with resisting arrest without violence, and he entered a pretrial-diversion program, something common for first-time nonviolent offenders, who then wind up with no conviction on their records.
  • Shooting the Messenger

    The Adrian Schoolcraft case--in which senior-level cops imprisoned a fellow officer for whistle-blowing--has now been confirmed by the NYPD, itself. The Village Voice reports on the NYPD's own finding regarding Schoolcraft's charges:

    The Voice has obtained that 95-page report, and it shows that the NYPD confirmed Schoolcraft's allegations. In other words, at the same time that police officials were attacking Schoolcraft's credibility, refusing to pay him, and serving him with administrative charges, the NYPD was sitting on a document that thoroughly vindicated his claims. 

    Investigators went beyond Schoolcraft's specific claims and found many other instances in the 81st Precinct where crime reports were missing, had been misclassified, altered, rejected, or not even entered into the computer system that tracks crime reports. 

    These weren't minor incidents. The victims included a Chinese-food delivery man robbed and beaten bloody, a man robbed at gunpoint, a cab driver robbed at gunpoint, a woman assaulted and beaten black and blue, a woman beaten by her spouse, and a woman burgled by men who forced their way into her apartment. 

    "When viewed in their totality, a disturbing pattern is prevalent and gives credence to the allegation that crimes are being improperly reported in order to avoid index-crime classifications," investigators concluded. "This trend is indicative of a concerted effort to deliberately underreport crime in the 81st Precinct."

    The repercussions have been serious, if bureaucratic:

    In all, five precinct officers, two sergeants, and Mauriello were either disciplined or charged with department infractions. Most of the command structure in the 81st was transferred. Kelly appointed one of the city's few female African American commanders to replace Mauriello. 

    Deputy Chief Michael Marino, the man who ordered Schoolcraft to be committed, was also transferred. Probers referred two of Schoolcraft's allegations to Internal Affairs: one involving the arrests of people on minor infractions held unnecessarily in the command and released, and the other, three arrests of people who tried to turn guns in to the station house. 

     Schoolcraft remains under a kind of indefinite suspension without pay and lives upstate with his father. His federal lawsuit is moving along in a preliminary phase.

    That the officers who did wrong are still employed, while the one reported the wrong is without a salary says a lot about the NYPD. 

    To get the entire sense of Adrian Schoolcraft's saga, check out this stunning episode of This American Life.
  • Woe to the New York Knicks

    Barely a month after Jeremy Lin brought the Knicks back from the dead, the team is falling apart again.

    Chris Broussard on the end of Linsanity and the onset of Melodrama:

    Management, the coaching staff and the players know Anthony is hurting the offense and in turn, the defensive morale, according to the sources. While D'Antoni's offense calls for Anthony to plant himself on the wing at the 3-point line, he often creeps in to his favorite spot in the floor -- the area between the elbow, the arc and the post. 

    That kills the Knicks' ability to run the high pick-and-roll and ruins the spacing that is so critical to D'Antoni's offense. "That's at the very core of our problem," one person close to the situation said. "That messes up the fluidity of the offense. Melo could do it, but he's got to trust the offense." 

    When Anthony first returned -- and it still appears to be the case -- Lin would bring the ball upcourt and try to run D'Antoni's system. When Anthony would abandon the offense, Lin would not pass him the ball, which irritated Anthony, sources said. So when Lin tried to talk to Anthony on the court, Anthony would turn his back to the point guard and tune him out. 

    I don't know basketball strategy well enough to assess Melo's play in D'Atoni's system. But I've always wanted to read a piece from an athlete on why it's so difficult to buy in and submit to what the coach wants to do. 
  • The Dharun Ravi Case Goes to Jury

    Do bullies, however cruel, deserve hard time in prison?

    The prosecution offers its closing argument:

    "He didn't like that he had a gay roommate. He was going to use it to his advantage, to expose to other people Tyler's sexual orientation, to allow him to be shown to be different," Ms. McClure said. "And the one thing that you don't want to be in your first three weeks of college is different."  

    She concluded, "The defendant's actions were mean-spirited, they were malicious, they were criminal."
    I neglected to state this clearly in my last post on the subject. I don't think Dharun Ravi should go to prison for ten years. I'm not even sure I think he should go to prison at all. Prison is an awful place, where truly horrible things happen. In my mind, it should be used, mostly, to protect society from dangerous predators. I don't think Dharun Ravi qualifies. I think even arguing that Ravi is responsible for Tyler Clementi's death is a difficult case to make.

    I do think that Ravi is a bully, who attempted to use the societal weight of homophobia to humiliate Tyler Clementi, a weight which Clementi was likely already feeling. I also think there is substantial evidence that Ravi knew he'd done just that, and made a cowardly attempt to cover his tracks. Beyond that, it's disturbing that Ravi had attempted to spy on other people before he got to Clementi.

    But I'm not convinced that cruelty, alone, is enough to mandate a prison bid. The only reasons I can muster to support such a notion are retributive. That isn't enough for me. 

    For the facts of all of this. Read Ian Parker's exceptional piece.
  • Stand Your Ground and Trayvon Martin

    There are still many unanswered questions in this case

    More reporting on the killing of Trayvon Martin:

    The teenager went out to get some Skittles and a can of ice tea. On his way back into the gated suburban Orlando community, Martin, wearing a hood, was spotted by Zimmerman, 26. According to law enforcement sources who heard Zimmerman's call to a non-emergency police number, he told a dispatcher "these a..holes always get away."

    Zimmerman described Martin as suspicious because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and walking slowly in the rain, police later told residents at a town hall. A dispatcher told him to wait for a police cruiser, and not leave his vehicle. 

    But about a minute later, Zimmerman left his car wearing a red sweatshirt and pursued Martin on foot between two rows of townhouses, about 70 yards from where the teen was going. Lee said Zimmerman's pursuit of Martin did not of itself constitute a crime.

    Witnesses told ABC News a fist fight broke out and at one point Zimmerman, who outweighed Martin by more than 100 pounds, was on the ground and that Martin was on top. Austin Brown, 13, was walking his dog during the time of the altercation and saw both men on the ground but separated. 

    Brown along with several other residents heard someone cry for help, just before hearing a gunshot. Police arrived 60 seconds later and the teen was quickly pronounced dead. According to the police report, Zimmerman, who was armed with a handgun, was found bleeding from the nose and the back of the head, standing over Martin, who was unresponsive after being shot. 

    An officer at the scene overheard Zimmerman saying, "I was yelling for someone to help me but no one would help me," the report said. Witnesses told ABC News they heard Zimmerman pronounce aloud to the breathless residents watching the violence unfold "it was self-defense," and place the gun on the ground.
    I don't know how reliable this account is. The sourcing isn't really stated with clarity. 

    There's some talk in comments that Zimmerman still has to prove -- by some objective standard -- that he believed his life was endangered, or that he was going to suffer serious injury. CNN's legal expert says differently, asserting that in a case without witnesses (to the shooting) Zimmerman's word is all they have. 

    This is not my area of expertise, and I am open to being wrong, but it really seems like the cops and maybe the state's attorney don't think they have much of a shot at disproving Zimmerman's claim of self-defense. Based on the murky facts presented, and without assuming motives, that's the only way I can understand claims like this one from the police --"Until we can establish probable cause to dispute [self-defense], we don't have the grounds to arrest him."

    I think what's most frustrating about this sort of case, is you can have someone hovering at the edge of the law, escalating a situation, and then retreating behind the law's full weight when the awful consequences are made evident. You don't want to hear me say this again, but all I can think about is my old friend, Prince Jones. In both cases, I could easily see myself having the same reaction, and ending up the same way.
  • Popular Support for Muslim Profiling

    One reason we find the NYPD explicitly profiling Muslims and spying on them in colleges up and down the eastern sea-board is because it's what the public actually wants

    One reason we find the NYPD explicitly profiling Muslims and spying on them in colleges up and down the eastern sea-board is because it's what the public actually wants:

    According to the poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, 58 percent of voters said the department acted appropriately in its efforts to fight terrorism and did not unfairly target Muslims; 29 percent disagreed. The department's efforts drew greater support from Republicans than Democrats, and from whites than blacks or Hispanics. But in all those cases, a plurality supported the department's efforts.
    This is neither shocking nor surprising. The wisdom of the crowd has never been unerringly beneficent. White Supremacy was not the result of a secret cabal. The hope is that law can be appealed to for justice, where majority rule proves deficient. But it is the law, itself, that is watching Muslims, explicitly because they are Muslims. Beyond a weary, if noble, band of activists, no aid seems forthcoming.

    Democracy is, as it always was, a problem we'd rather have than not.
  • Florida's Self-Defense Laws and the Killing of Trayvon Martin

    I haven't blogged about the shooting of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, because I've found the killing depressingly familiar. For those who haven't kept up, the details are as follows:

    Police say Zimmerman called police around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 to report a suspicious person. The dispatcher told him to wait for patrol officers. At one point, Zimmerman followed the teen, stepped out of the car and they began to fight, Lee said.

    "When dispatchers told him not to do anything, it was just a recommendation," Lee said. "There is evidence that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense."

    He would not say what the evidence was.

    Why Zimmerman got out of the car and what led to the altercation are still unknown. Zimmerman, who had a concealed weapons permit, carried a black Kel Tek 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

    Martin's pockets contained $22, Skittles candy and a can of iced tea when he died, police said. The family filed a lawsuit to demand recordings of the conversation between Zimmerman and the police dispatcher.

    Police have declined to release the tape until the investigation is concluded.

    "They are passing the buck," said family attorney Benjamin Crump. "The entire time he was defending Mr. Zimmerman. But we'll see what will come next."

    The theory that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense got me wondering about the threshold for such a claim. As it turns out, Flordia has one of the broadest set of self-defense statutes in the country. Unlike many states, you need not retreat before employing self-defense, for instance. The relevant portions of the law--as much as I can tell--seem to be as follows.

    Zimmerman could lawfully shoot Martin if he, "knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred." Know unlawful act had occurred or was occurring. If Zimmerman had "reason to believe" such an act was in progress, the police have declined to cite it. My hope is that the vague charge of looking "suspicious" would not meet that threshold.

    Zimmerman could also lawfully shoot Martin if Zimmerman was..

    ...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

    This strikes me as a really broad self-defense statute. If I'm reading this right, Zimmerman can shoot Martin if he can show that he believed it was "necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm." In other words, the objective of fact of being in danger need not be demonstrated, only the perception. In a case where there are no witnesses, the only person who can actually testify to that belief, is the shooter. The "commission of a forcible felony" seems to offer even more wiggle room, though I'm not sure.

    The implications of such a broadly-drawn statute are rather breath-taking, and basically seem to defer to the judgements of the police and prosecutors. If you are someone, for whatever reason, who elicits the sympathies of law enforcement you likely will walk free--as Zimmerman has. If you don't, and law enforcement decided to make an issue of your alleged "belief" than you likely would be arrested.

    I am not sure what to make of Zimmerman's history, or its relevance to its case. Nevertheless here it is. He was arrested in 2005 for "suspicion of battery on a law enforcement officer." Those charges were dropped. A neighbor has claimed, anonymously, that Zimmerman had been repeatedly accused of overly-aggressive tactics. Given the lack of details in the former charge, and the lack of attribution in the latter, I'm not sure how much any of this clarifies.

  • American Anti-Semitism in Context

    Do most black people view Jews as distinct group, separate from other white people?

    I found this comment from yesterday's post helpful:

    One observation. Many non-Jews and Jews view Jews as a distinct group within (or even outside of) the larger caucasian group. I think this is important context for understanding the Jewish reaction to the likes of Farrakhan. There's something far less threatening (to me, at least) about Farrakhan calling whites the devil than when he targeted his hatred specifically at Jews. Whites are the majority and are at little risk of widespread, systemic discrimination. 

    For Jews it has been a common experience across the planet and over generations, even if it's been relatively benign in the US. Even though there's no comparison to be made between the scope and extent of anti-semitism in the US as compared to racism/discrimination toward african americans, jews remain a minority, subject at times to the whims and biases of the majority.
    I disagree with the first portion of this, in that I don't think most black people actually view Jews as particularly distinct from other white people. We obviously recognize that some white people are Southern, and some white people are from Jersey, and some white people are Catholic, and some white people poor etc. But there's very little overarching sense that Jews are subject to the same quizzical gaze as, say, Hispanics.

    With that said, I think this post makes an important point that isn't immediately obvious to a lot of black people. Even more so than blacks, Jews are a minority, and their particular past offers many instances of that dynamic birthing catastrophic injustice. To bring this full circle. Black people are unlikely to think of Jews as a minority. We see them as white, and thus empowered by all the alliances and societal capital which whiteness bestows. But if you grant that in the mind of at least some (?) Jews, their allegiance to whiteness is more tenuous, you understand how "Jewish devil" can threaten in a way that "white devil" does not.

    There's something to be said here about relative wealth, and the differences between America and Europe. But not very much. Understanding why someone who is different from you reacts in a certain manner is often more important than debating the "objective truth" of their reaction. Even acknowledging the legitimacy of that "why" will often make a debate over "objective truth" more clarifying. 

  • Morning Coffee

    Start your day with the airy lyrical prowess of Metric.

    Metric, Metric, Metric. As always I love the air in these lyrics:

    The doctor, the writer, the hairdresser, 
    Felt up and fingerprinted waiting for the train.

    There really is so much room in the song for your own interpretation, and more, for your own feelings. The song channels what you want it to. Part of that isn't even the words themselves but how they fall upon each other. And of course the music. For vets, here's Metric unraveling the song a bit.

  • The Redskins Bet the Farm

    Washington's long-struggling football team trades away their future in hopes of landing Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III

    I like RG3, but I'm always going to be against giving up two first round picks and a second rounder--sight unseen. And it's always "sight unseen" until you play in the pros. With that said, I've done enough occasional football blogging to realize the randomness of it all. It's big news. And if only to not hear Limbaugh-esque talk about a desirous media, I hope it works out. (As much as a Cowboys fan can hope for such things.)


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