FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 2022
...the Skittles were back in the picture: Yesterday, at a press briefing, President Zelensky referred to one part of the problem. According to the New York Times, this is what he said:
“The Russian side has long ago formed the answers to their questions,” Mr. Zelensky said. “What is the point of posing questions if you long ago have the answers? For now, this is the difficulty of this dialogue.”
What's the point of conducting a dialogue? The Russkies are simply going to stick to the pre-crafted story they tell.
In a related matter, Snopes received pushback when it debunked a pleasing report about the war in Ukraine. According to the New York Times, here's what one person said:
The Ghost of Kyiv may be a myth.
While there are reports of some Russian planes that were destroyed in combat, there is no information linking them to a single Ukrainian pilot... A photo supposedly confirming the fighter’s existence, shared by a former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was from a 2019 Twitter post by the Ukrainian defense ministry.
When the fact-checking website Snopes published an article debunking the video, some social media users pushed back.
“Why can’t we just let people believe some things?” one Twitter user replied.
Completing the rule of three, we're going to recall, once again, what Gene Brabender said. The former plowboy, a right-handed pitcher, was quoted by Jim Bouton in the iconic book, Ball Fou.
Brabender had little patience for nuanced discussions out in the bullpen. "Where I come from, we just talk for a little while," he is said to have said at one point. "After that we start to hit."
So it may go when other people challenge or question the stories we tell ourselves. The late Joan Didion introduced the topic at the start of her most famous essay:
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Didion famously claimed. Sometimes out stories are so simplified that they secretly seem to have emerged from the realm of the fairy tale:
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea..."
We tell ourselves stories (in order to live) which seem more like fairy tales. So it has been with a tribally mandated story about a deeply unfortunate death. It's one of the stories we tell ourselves within our own terrified tribe.
As of last week, it had been ten years since that shooting death occurred. Here's the version of the story Charles Blow told himself—and us:
BLOW (2/26/22): On Feb. 26, 2012, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, spotted Martin in a hoodie walking through a gated townhouse community not far from Orlando.
Suspicious, Zimmerman called 911 and followed Martin. Dispatch told him, “We don’t need you to do that.” There was an encounter between the two before Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest at close range.
Martin was just 17 years old, a boy, and he was where he was supposed to be.
He was unarmed. He was carrying Skittles and a can of iced tea.
For the record, there was never any indication that the teenager's hoodie played any role in what happened that night. Again for the record, it has never been shown that Zimmerman continued to follow Martin after the dispatcher said what she said.
How did the fatal "encounter between the two" actually happen that night? Who might have ended up following whom? Was anyone actually following anyone when the encounter occurred?
None of that has ever been established, But of one thing we can be sure:
The Skittles will stay in the story, used as a symbol of childish innocence. Blow leaves the Skittles in the story he tells, even though they had nothing to do with what actually happened.
Trayvon Martin had just purchased a bag of Skittles on the evening in question—but that fact plays absolutely no role in the tragic events which occurred. When we leave the Skittles in the story we tell, we're engaging in the aesthetic of the fairy tale.
Blow omits one key part of the story in the story he tells—but he leaves the Skittles in. In fairness, Deborah Roberts did the same thing as she introduced a segment on Good Morning America:
ROBERTS (2/26/22): Trayvon Martin was just a junior in high school when he was walking back to his father's home [sic] with a bag of Skittles and was shot dead.
It's the image that ignited a movement. 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's hoodie becoming a symbol of racial injustice, his death a catalyst for Black Lives Matter.
Roberts left the bag of Skittles in—but also, of course, the hoodie. In the story Roberts was telling herself, Martin was simply walking home with a bag of Skittles, and then he was shot dead.
Roberts left the Skittles in, but she took a whole lot out. In the story as she told it, Martin had simply bought some Skittles, and after that he'd been shot.
Norah O'Donnell did the same thing. Hosting the CBS Evening News, she left the Skittles in:
O'DONNELL (2/25/22): Saturday marks ten years since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after stopping at a store to buy Skittles and juice. CBS Morning's co-host Gayle King sat down with his mother to talk about her loss and pain.
In her own synopsis, King returned to a certain striking phrase. She said that Martin "was gunned down while walking back to his father's house [sic] from the convenience store."
He bought the Skittles, and then was "gunned down." Nothing beside remains.
Newsweek left the Skittles in. Here's the story Newsweek told:
ALEXANDER (2/26/22): On February 26th 2012, Zimmerman was working at a local gated community in Sanford, Florida, as a crime-watch volunteer when he encountered 17-year-old Martin as he returned to his father's house from the store, where he'd bought some Skittles and iced tea.
Against the advice of a 911 operator, Zimmerman followed Martin, eventually shooting the teenager dead after an altercation.
For the record, it hasn't been shown that Zimmerman ignored the advice of the operator. To her credit, Inigo Alexander at least mentioned the existence of an altercation. Oprah Winfrey didn't do that, though she did leave the Skittles in:
WINFREY (2/26/22): Trayvon’s story shook me. Along with the volumes of cases of police brutality and deaths of innocent Black women and men, the unjustified violence inflicted on a 17-year-old kid just walking down the street in his father’s neighborhood [sic] hit a particular chord within many of us.
He’d just done something we’ve all done before—stopped at a convenience store. The innocence of his purchase still lingers with me: a packet of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. I think of him chewing on the Skittles, delighting in the burst of flavors while talking with his girlfriend on the phone.
In the story Oprah tells herself, it's all about the innocence. Martin was "just walking down the street" with his Skittles. Then he was shot and killed.
As she proceeded, Oprah did a lot of "imagining" about what happened that night. She also omitted a whole lot of facts. She closed her story with this:
WINFREY: He had only 17 years on earth, but what a powerful soul. A decade later, the way he died still resounds through our culture. We remember him and acknowledge his life’s sacrifice in our continuing aspiration for social justice: to be seen as a fellow human. Not a threat.
To feel safe. To be respected. To simply be able to be yourself. To walk down the street with some Skittles and an iced tea with no fear of death.
He deserved better. We owe him to do better.
There they were again!
"A decade later, the way he died still resounds through our culture," Oprah said. She said that after omitting a range of basic facts about the way this young person died, while leaving the Skittles in.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Also, to simplify the world beyond all recognition. To pretend that we are the good, decent, caring people, and that The Others are not.
The way we've told ourselves this story is an indictment of us. It isn't an indictment of Trayvon Martin, who was only 17 years old. It isn't an indictment of George Zimmerman, though that's the way the most atrocious journalism we reviewed last week kept pushing our tribe's astonishing wealth of misstatement.
Charles Blow left the Skittles in, but he left a whole lot out. He said that Trayvon was right where he was supposed to be, without mentioning where actually he was in the unfortunate moment when he was shot and killed.
We don't know how the altercation began, but by the time of Zimmerman's trial, there was little serious doubt about the way the fight had proceeded. Here's part of what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote after the Zimmerman jury announced its "not guilty" verdicts:
COATES (7/14/13): I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to offer some thoughts on the verdict of innocent for George Zimmerman:
I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eyewitnesses.
The idea that Zimmerman got out of the car to check the street signs and was ambushed by a 17-year old kid with no violent history, who told him "you're going to die tonight," strikes me as very implausible. It strikes me as much more plausible that Martin was being followed by a strange person, that the following resulted in a confrontation, that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in the confrontation, and that Zimmerman then shot him. But I didn't see the confrontation. No one else really saw the confrontation. Except George Zimmerman. I'm not even clear that situation I outlined would result in conviction.
For the record, juries don't deliver "innocent" verdicts; the verdicts here were "not guilty." Those verdicts meant that the state didn't prove its charges against Zimmerman. It didn't and doesn't represent an ultimate judgment about what actually happened that night.
Coates said the jury "basically got it right." He never thought that the prosecution had actually proved its case.
At the same time, he found the idea that Martin ambushed Zimmerman that night to be "very implausible."
We don't know what actually happened, but we didn't, and don't, have that same reaction. Teenage boys do many things which are deeply unwise. Sometimes, disasters occur.
That said, Coates was willing to do what almost no one ever does. He was willing to state an obvious fact—he wasn't there to see the confrontation!
Like us, he didn't know how the fight began—and he was willing to say so!
How did the confrontation begin? Unlike everyone else on the planet, Coates wasn't willing to pretend that he actually knew.
That said, he had come to accept a fairly obvious fact. A fight had occurred between the two, and Martin was "getting the best of Zimmerman" when he was shot and killed.
By the time of the Zimmerman trial, there was little real doubt of such facts. By now, these facts have been almost uniformly disappeared from the story we tell ourselves—but Coates was willing to acknowledge these facts in the passage we've cited.
Trayvon wasn't "walking home" (full stop) when he was shot and killed. He was on top of Zimmerman, engaged in a fight, and he was pummeling him.
How did this fight begin? As far as we know, no real evidence has ever emerged concerning that basic question. That said, Zimmerman emerged with a fractured nose and with lacerations on the back of his head.
Zimmerman had said that he feared for his life. Here's what Coates said about that in comments, drawing upon his youth in Baltimore at a time when street fights were not unknown:
COATES (7/14/13): As a younger man, I was in a few fights—mostly on the losing end. Some I provoked. Some I didn't. But in almost every one I can make a case for "death or great bodily harm." One I remember specifically, a guy hit me over the head with a steel trash can at the start. But the fight ended with me overtop of him—much like Trayvon was said to be over Zimmerman—wailing away. He had started the fight—but by Florida law I was the aggressor.
Fights are not like boxing matches. If you provoke one and start losing, your life is basically in someone else's hands. You should be afraid. Punches actually do kill people and cause "great bodily harm."
COMMENTER: I don't see how being on the losing end of a fist fight means a person "reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
COATES: I am on the ground and you are on top of me wailing away. I am most certainly in "imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
I say this as someone who has been in that position, and the person putting someone in that position. It is really, really frightening. And you are in danger of "great bodily harm" at the very least. Punches kill people. Skulls hit concrete or tables and cause great damage.
And that assumes that you know you are only being hit with someone's fist. What if it feels like your being hit with brass knuckles? What if you think you see the person reaching for something to finish the job?
Fights are not tame staid events. They are chaotic, random and very, very scary. They are not regulated. There are no TKOs. Fist-fights kill people—and there is no guarantee that a fist-fight will stay at that level.
Zimmerman had said that he feared for his life as Martin banged his head on the ground (or perhaps on the sidewalk). In that exchange, Coates was saying that it wouldn't be crazy to fear for your life in such a chaotic circumstance.
He said that people can, and do, die in fights like that. "Punches kill people," he said. "Skulls hit concrete or tables and cause great damage."
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Today, we live in a prettier world, a world our tribe has cleaned up. We live in a world which comes straight outta Didion, though her opening lines now say this:
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The boy with the candy walking home from the store was shot and killed—was "gunned down"—by the wolf with the gun in the tree.
We're honest enough to admit it! Not that many years ago, we wouldn't have known that members of the conservative world could believe as many crackpot tales as they have come to believe.
On the other hand, we also wouldn't have known that our own liberal tribe would ever be able to behave in the various ways we have done in the past ten years, starting with the endless array of ways we have dissembled about this tragic event.
We promote false claims, disappear true facts, pretend that our favorite conjectures have somehow been established. But most of all, we leave the Skittles in the picture while we drop the violence out. And then we struggle and strain and strive to get The Others locked up.
We tell ourselves baldly falsified stories in order to (falsely) believe in ourselves. We dissemble as easily as we breathe. The others can go straight to hell.
The one thing we humans rarely do? We rarely acknowledge the fact that we don't actually know.
They're the three dirty words you can't say on TV! To make life simpler, we tell ourselves stories. Again and again, then again and again, it's dissembling all the way down.
And now for the rest of the story: By the time he wrote his best-selling book, Coates had seemed to make some adjustments in this particular story.
The book was written as a truth-teller's testament to his son. It opened with a baldly inaccurate account of an appearance on Face the Nation. Eventually, Coates wrote this:
COATES (page 104-105): There it is—the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has meant that there was always someone down below because a mountain is not a mountain unless there is something below.
You and I, my son, are that "below." That was true in 1776; it is true today. There is no them without you, and without the right to break you they must necessarily fall from the mountain, lose their divinity, and tumble out of the Dream...But because they believe themselves to be white, they would rather countenance a man choked to death on film under their laws. And they would rather subscribe to the myth of Trayvon Martin, slight teenager, hands full of candy and soft drinks, transforming into a murderous juggernaut.
The people who believe themselves to be white had subscribed to an ugly myth about an innocent teen whose hands had been full of candy at the time.
The candy and soft drinks were back in the picture. So goes our failed human race!