Of Demons and the Death on Camera of Sammy Yatim

All of us battle the demons, whether we are boys with baseball caps and knives or men with uniforms and guns.

We are deep in a Toronto night. The video begins without sirens. I notice their absence.

Men and women dressed in black and armed with guns move back and forth or stand outside an eerie yellow haze that cannot properly be called light. Another figure, an apparent man-child, half in black and half in white, moves back and forth within the stopped streetcar.

Now I hear the sirens. They seem faint and far away, muted voices rushing to the scene, noises in the night.

The video images are vague but I am the parent of young men, and in Sammy’s posture I can see what might be arrogance mixed with fear – that, or the failing struggle of someone much too young to keep the demons in or out alone. But whatever else I see, I see a boy. For all that he may be spewing foul words or waving about a knife, he is a boy. He is one boy. The calling sirens still sound distant.

I was not in that streetcar on that street. I do not know who lost the struggle first. I know that shots rang out – first three and then six more – and Sammy was no longer there. I notice his absence and I peer closer, searching. He is gone. The boy has disappeared. The remaining men and women mill about, as if not certain where they are or what they’ve done or what they are to do.

The noise now finds its power, and it grows. Its howling invades the night, rising and falling and pulsing. It does not feel as if it came closer; only that it grew louder. It seems to be rushing everywhere at once and for a moment, I can almost believe that it is gloating.

Some will be disappointed with the video. They came to it because of media warnings that promised it was graphic. They wanted horror, obtained with a free ticket and savoured in their own homes. Let’s have some blood, some louder screams, and just a little crying please? But there was none of what they wanted.

They do not see the horror that is there for them to see.

When the man with a gun killed one boy with a knife, those nine bullets ripped a hole in the walls of our world. They left a tear large enough that, as  Sammy slipped away from us, the demons could enter, dancing with others of their tribe, screaming out the news of their victory and madly rising higher in our now much darker sky.

 

 

The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that seeing and hearing are not necessarily worthy of believing.

Sometime in the near future, a Florida jury will render its verdict in the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman case. That verdict will be largely irrelevant. Truth and Justice long ago left the building, disgusted by the muck and mud being trucked in by the armies of special interest.  The case is now trapped in the centre of a screaming crowd so vast it would have filled the Roman Forum, where, thumbs down , it would have stood and cheered the death of both protagonists.

The Martin-Zimmerman case is a carefully choreographed and scripted spectacle. Was Zimmerman a man suddenly in danger who therefore had the right to defend himself? Or was he a racist? A drop out? A man with a history of violence? A failure who strutted his little-man walk around his gated community, drooling over the idea that he was the original American hard-ass, worthy of respect and deserving of his balls? Who knows anymore – and in much of America, who cares.

Was Trayvon Martin the world’s cutest and most innocent ever teenager, targeted by that nasty fat  white man when all he was doing was spending his time helping old ladies and loving babies and grinning photogenically? Or was he just another pot head, a jewelry thief, an unstable and oft abandoned man-child, a cracker-hating racist with a growing fascination with guns, an angry young man serving out his third school suspension in one year. It doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters are the needs of the duelling narratives.  

We have the Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton Good Parents` Narrative, a tear-stained many-hankies story of life-long love and oft declared devotion. Their “Mother’s-love” and “Father’s pride” sound bites have featured prominently in media reports.  It’s a marketable angle and it sold. No mention is made of the fact that Trayvon lived with and was fed, housed, clothed, schooled and disciplined for most of his brief life by another woman, Alicia Stanley, a lady being kept far away from the camera. No one mentions that “Mother’s Love” is seeking financial compensation for her son’s death or that “Father’s Pride” is rumoured to be preparing a multi-million dollar civil suit following the criminal trial. There are dollar making machines out there – book deals, speaking tours, and more. But this potentially lucrative narrative needs perfect grieving parents and perfect grieving parents need a perfect dead child. No wrinkles, please!

Then we have the Race in America political narratives. The day the case first broke, long before anyone was arrested, demonstrations broke out in cities across America. To any observer, they seemed well-planned, a bit choreographed and big on rhetoric. (Does anyone remember the threatened “Million Hoodie March”?)  Black Democratic Leaders and the NAACP fulminated, the usual activists breathed the usual fire, professional media manipulators manipulated, and thousands – or hundreds – or dozens – it was never really clear – shouted their approval: “Zimmerman is guilty.”  “End Profiling Now!” “Justice for Trayvon!” “Am I Next?” And on and on and on.

The Politics of Race in America is both Big Politics and Big Business. Rhetoric aside, many groups and individuals have a powerful and vested interest in keeping groups divided. Fanning hatred, resurrecting feelings of victimhood, pointing accusatory fingers and creating guilt have many times proved themselves to be effective ways of raising profile, gaining political office and generating dollars. Outrage is forever sexy. Truth is … whatever. Yes, it works far more effectively if the marketed anger is squeaky-clean virtuous; it should not be tainted. Trayvon must be nothing less than saint and Zimmerman nothing more than sinner. It is for this reason that we have watched commentators tie themselves in knots trying to explain away Trayvon’s racist utterings while at the same time castigating his step mother for suggesting Zimmerman was not motivated by race. It is why conservative commentators attacked the “white Hispanic” label some applied to Zimmerman by arguing that those who used such a term were themselves racist.

We cannot forget the Save Our Guns narrative. Now the dynamic changes. Now the story is a tale of prowling delinquents, possibly armed, of drug deals gone badly, of possible threats to the great god Property. Enter that law-biding-just-tryin`-to-help-the-folks-at-home-good-old-boy-George, out there keeping a neighbourly (armed!) eye on things, and what happens?  The poor boy’s rolling on the ground fighting for his life. Oh Mr. and Mrs. America! Can’t you just feel the fear?

This narrative can be more flexible. Zimmerman’s heroism need not be as perfect as Trayvon’s virtue. The story is really the concealed danger lurking everywhere in gated communities populated by people able to afford good guns. That Trayvon wasn’t armed was initially inconvenient, but now they have text messages suggesting that he was “fascinated” by firearms. Good enough. That’s a wrap. Not perfect Zimmerman; Perfect Fear.

Let’s not forget the Your Right To Know media narratives, proof again that America’s biggest White-Black problem is not race. It`s media driven false dichotomies:  Left vs. Right, Good vs. Evil, Red vs. Blue and so on. It’s the hand-wringing “Oh My God No!” stories constantly pushed by the news media and then manipulated by competing power brokers. Nothing sells more ads than crisis, conflict, hate, war, disaster and tears. It’s Ryan vs. Biden, Spy vs. Spy, Superman vs. Lex Luthor and now, Trayvon vs. Zimmerman. Gray is only good in dress slacks.

And of good or evil, which sells better?  That’s easy. If the Second Coming of Christ coincides with riots over a Zimmerman verdict, the CNN lead will be, “Suspicious birth in Bethlehem. Now back to Florida and our main story. Over to you, Wolf!”

One last narrative is worth a mention. Since the story broke, aging and has-been “stars” have been all over it, finding a way to use one side or the other to get their faces back in front of any camera anywhere. Cher, Roseanne Barr and Spike Lee are among the worst offenders with the latter two tweeting Zimmerman’s parents’ address, resulting in a deluge of hate mail and threatening calls. In Lee’s case, absurdity was the order of the day as he gave out the address of the wrong Zimmerman family. The much-frightened and angry elderly couple promptly sued.

What happens after the jury retires sometime today will be at best accidental justice. There will likely be rioting in either case as rioters are more about excuses than causes. And all over America, people will continue to shout or plead or demand or pray for a certain verdict. It will not matter to them whether the outcome is true or false. They have a necessary narrative to defend and they don’t really care what Zimmerman did or did not do or who Trayvon really was. They need the verdict that brings their chosen narrative to a successful close. Whether they need to hate or they need to believe or they need to feed the greed, they will let nothing interfere with satisfaction.

As for the rest of us, we need to remind ourselves of what we already know –  that often, when we turn to what we are told is news, we are encountering well polished sales pitches, complete with practiced tears, orchestrated outrage, rapidly assembled crowds, deftly prepared sound bites and carefully concealed motives. We will be asked to shed a tear or shake a fist.

Much better, I think, to leave the crowded forum, eyes dry and hands in our pockets. We can then take an invigorating walk while we examine what we’ve been given. We can unleash our inner sceptic and let it do its necessary work. (We should remind ourselves that this is necessary practice since we still have the Hernandez, Tsarnaev and Holmes trials coming up.) This reflective process will not be as noisy or exciting or cathartic as what’s going on back in the arena, but it will be decidedly more elegant.

And Truth and Justice might just then stand a chance.

We will return the “The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behavior” soon. For those interested in the impact of well-shaped bums on GPS fanatics, the answer may be found at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-19