Ode to Cpl. Carlton B. Jones

Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently added a National Book Award to his MacArthur Foundation “genius” award given to him in gratitude for telling rich white folks what they want to hear: unlike all other former slaves and their descendants in the world and throughout history, being black is a “struggle” that “black bodies” cannot survive without their help and noblesse oblige. In his acceptance speech, he dedicated the award to his deceased friend Prince C. Jones, Jr. with whom he has much in common. They both lived a life of privilege with little struggle in life (except for the beatings that Mr. Coates received from his father that he then dished out to the other kids in the neighborhood and his teachers); received much family, emotional, material, and financial support from their extended family and numerous friends all of whom were college educated; received excellent educational opportunities from their parents and the American education system; and then received a free ride to college. Mr. Coates spent five years of that free ride engaging in sexual conquests and then having a child (but at least stayed and continues to live with the mother) but never graduating. Prince Jones ended seven years of that free ride not by finally graduating but by intentionally ramming his jeep — that his mommy bought for him — into what he knew to be an unmarked police car resulting in his being shot to death by the police officer in the car. Prince Jones left behind a baby mama and a daughter — another fatherless black family. Given that Mr. Jones was twice arrested for beating the mother of his child including once when she was 8 months pregnant, with the addition of the multi-million dollar civil settlement from the offending police department some good may come out of his death after all.


What the “journalist” Mr. Coates almost always leaves out of his story about his friend Mr. Prince Jones, that he left out of his book except in a one-line passing side comment, and that he left out and always leaves out except as a cursory side comment in all of his discussions about Mr. Jones, as the Washington Post was at least honest enough to admit, is: “Black Victim, Black Cop, Black County.” The officer that shot Mr. Jones, Cpl. Carlton B. Jones, was a “black body”, the term that Mr. Coates uses in his book to refer to himself, to his son, to Mr. Jones, and to others of his “tribe” or “race”, terms that he uses despite claiming that such terms are the product or source of racism (he cannot make up his mind which). Cpl. Jones worked for and was trained by the “black elite” of Prince George’s County. This is one of the many dishonest exclusions if not outright distortions of Mr. Coates’ polemics that caused me to write the book Between the World and Us and that caused me to continue on into this blog.


But, to whom should I dedicate this blog? At first, as an act of irony, I was going to dedicate it to Mr. Coates’ grandmother who “cleaned white folks’ houses” in the same way that my poor, immigrant, uneducated white mother did after coming to this country as a refugee from communist Yugoslavia and a life of peasant farming going back generations. After cleaning their houses while also cleaning tables at restaurants for a few years, my mother was able to get a night job as an office cleaning lady that eventually led to the attainment of the holy grail of working class work: a union job (cleaning offices as part of the SEIU). When I was a younger man that could cry, it would bring tears to my eyes when I thought of how little I saw her during my high school years. By the time I got home from school, she had already gone to work. When I got up in the morning, she was sleeping having not gotten home until 2 or 3AM from work. I still remember a few nights when I was awake in my bed and she would quietly open my door and peak in just to see me. To this day, I do not know why I did not say anything or greet her. It just did not seem to be the right thing to do at the time. God, if I had a time machine, I would change those moments. Her cleaning lady job put food on the table, paid the mortgage, and avoided welfare for us during the years that my father was disabled from his construction laborer job and only able to find part-time work when he found any. She was glad to have the job and was good at her job.


The same must be true for Mr. Coates’s grandmother. Her hard work resulted in great success: his whole family including his parents and his siblings, except for Mr. Coates, are college educated and well off and thus have succeeded in the American Dream that he ridicules (his siblings work as engineers, lawyers, and business owners as did his father and mother).


As is true of all social elite especially writers going all the way back to Aristotle, Mr. Coates looks down on the menial, physical work done by his grandmother as demeaning. It is good enough for the likes of the poor such as my mother but not for his “gem of purest ray serene” to “waste [her] sweetness on the desert air.” Pride in one’s work and respecting the work of others, including the hard physical work in which the vast majority of humanity has toiled and is toiling, is to be restricted to the creative work of such geniuses as Mr. Coates and is not to be granted working stiffs with no hope in the present but only in the future.


However, I rejected such irony because such dedication would not be fair to his grandmother. If his story about her is true, which I doubt given Mr. Coates’ tendency to distort reality, no doubt she appreciates and wants her privacy in the same way my mother does. Though being a cleaning lady supporting your family is honorable work that should be a source of strength, social support, and an individual sense of worth as all work should be, it really is miserable work.


No, my dedication should be and is to the forgotten soul in need of much empathy in the Prince Jones half-story told by Mr. Coates: Cpl. Carlton B. Jones. Mr. Coates as with the vast majority of pundits these days gets rich sitting in the stands watching the gladiators fight life’s battles and then criticizes their technique, tactics, and strategy — another one of the privileges of life in the United States granted to Mr. Coates. This is a privilege not given to workingmen and women, white or black. This was not a privilege given to Cpl. Jones.


As a workingman, Cpl. Jones joined both the Army Reserve and became a police officer because according to his deposition he was “inspired by the vision of racial harmony invoked by Martin Luther King, Jr.” As many a workingman did throughout United States history, he joined the military and gave the rest of society a blank check for his life to use as it saw fit to defend the Constitution of which Mr. Coates is always invoking its protection — though never willing to risk anything to protect it. Regardless of how naive this inspiration was, I admire the willingness to do it as I did and am grateful personally that he as a “black body” did so regardless of the overall or ultimate ethical nature of the military. Having grown up in a segregated working class neighborhood that defended itself against all it perceived to be a danger to the little its residents had, all strangers or outsiders both white and black ones, the military was my first opportunity to work with and become shipmates with a “black body.” He and all other “black bodies” who joined the military throughout the years and became trusted shipmates and comrades did and do much to reduce racism in this country, vastly more than either pretend intellectual elites such as Mr. Coates or pretend warriors such as the Malcolm X’s and Black Panthers of the world too busy concentrating on their struggles for personal power to be mates or comrades to anyone else. Though I am not a fan of police officers, I do understand and admire his inspiration to become a police officer to put the bad guys away and to fight for truth, justice, and the American way of life.


Unfortunately, as young idealists such as Cpl. Jones soon learn, it is not always clear who the bad guys are, and truth, justice, and the American way of life are not what Martin Luther King nor any other politician, white or black, makes them appear to be. As Clarence Darrow once said, “there is no justice in life, in or out of court.” As Mr. Coates’ journalism, books, and awards establish, truth is what those in power say is true — most of the time, in the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is not king but a danger to be eliminated. That aspect of the American way of life consisting of the High Noon image of a solitary peace officer standing up against the bad guys is an idealistic one but also a delusional one. As many a military veteran has learned and as Cpl. Jones learned the night that Prince Jones decided to ram him with his jeep, despite intense training, the facing of death and danger with rational reserve and then spitting in their faces sounds nice and looks cool on television, movies, and in the books by writers such as Mr. Coates who have never faced such a situation and most likely never will, but it is a completely different matter to face in reality. Facing what appears to be an attempt to kill by someone willing to kill is scary, especially the first time. If John Wayne or Russell Crowe faced Prince Jones on the night that Cpl. Jones did, perhaps they would have been able to transfer their screen persona into life and everyone would have survived completely unharmed. Based on my life experience, I doubt it. As many a man or woman in similar circumstances throughout history have done, Cpl. Jones got scared, could not think straight, and began to shoot wildly at his attacker. A mistake with which he must live for the rest of his life.


The undisputed fact about life is that if one tries to work, to do things in life, to actually fight the battle and problem that is life, one will make mistakes about which the critics such as Mr. Coates sitting in the stands watching can then critique, ridicule, write about, and be rewarded. However, my hat and dedication is to those in the arena fighting the battle that is life. Cpl. Jones seems to have disappeared from the county police department and I have not been able to locate him anywhere. No doubt, if he still is or ever was the idealist that his court deposition makes him appear to be, he is somewhere still suffering from the guilt of his mistake. He is doing so without the empathy of public sympathy but with the public humiliation of having his mistake constantly marketed and publicized by Mr. Coates so that he can sell books. Wherever he is, I wish him good hope. As a military veteran and thus as a warrior, he should not need and I hope he succeeds in dealing with his guilt without the publicity and public sympathy that Mr. Coates needs and craves. At least, as a fellow workingman, I hope that we are comrades in the never ending struggle with the powers-that-be that we are destined to lose — in this life at least.

9 thoughts on “Ode to Cpl. Carlton B. Jones

  1. You wrote: “What the “journalist” Mr. Coates left out of his story about his friend Mr. Prince Jones, that he left out of his book, and that he left out and always leaves out of all of his discussions about Mr. Jones, as the Washington Post was at least honest enough to admit, is: “Black Victim, Black Cop, Black County.” The officer that shot Mr. Jones, Cpl. Carlton B. Jones, was a “black body”,….”

    Perhaps you didn’t read the book before jumping to commentary …. page 83 (ISBN 978-0-8129-9354-7):
    “Here is what I knew at the outset: The officer who killed Prince Jones was black. The politicians who empowered this officer to kill were black. Many of the black politician, many of them twice as good, seemed unconcerned. How could this be?…”

    Why is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing so threatening to you?


    1. One line in 175 pages of propaganda that is never mentioned again nor analyzed in any of his polemics. I guess I missed it while reading it among all the nonsense and B.S. My error. One honest error does not excuse the harm he intentionally causes by his knowing misrepresentations and omissions.

      I am not threatened by him. I disagree with him. Despite his history of beating up on teachers and of being the neighborhood bully, I do not fear him nor should anyone. Persons like him will always back down when faced with a worthy adversary.

      I approved your comment. If you start the game of calling anyone who disagrees with your views as “threatened” by them, I will delete them. So, leave things be.


  2. Random reader here that stumbled across this blog. I’ll leave a real email address, but just ’cause I don’t know you or what you’ll do with that info, I’m not leaving my primary email or full name. Over the past 2 years, I have been seeking out conflicting perspectives and trying to find ways to engage in dialogue, rather than just hurling opinions or screaming into Facebook echo-chambers.

    I can understand why someone would subscribe to your perspective here. From my perspective, it appears that you are feeding a strong confirmation bias and evaluating information through a lens that supports that bias. I believe that is evidenced by the way you contextualize your subjects, the use of charged words and descriptions, and quite a bit of hyperbole.

    I also understand the “workingman” argument. How many people of different races, ethnicity (insert marginalized population) etc. etc. achieved the “American Dream” through hard work, and oft’times an equal amount of luck? Lots and lots. What I don’t see here is recognition that our systems were created, designed, built and grown, for generations…centuries, by those that were, and still are, in power. Power as in, holding the influence, money, property, security and control. Now on “systems”: I’m using that term very broadly. By systems I mean economic ones those that built, created and distributed (evenly?) wealth in this country, political ones that established power, districts, influence, tax codes, criminal law, social ones that drove community development, neighborhoods, social norms, pop culture and things we consider “values” or the moral fiber of our society etc.

    I also don’t see acknowledgement that here some of the even more nuanced, or less tangible elements of our class system are similarly problematic for those not in the ‘majority’ population. Barriers and challenges exist that those in the ‘majority’ population rarely, if ever, encounter the way other demographics do. The structure of the systems we have built favors those that built it. That is not to say that we all do not share a common humanity, and that stress, struggles, poverty, injustice, tragedy or even opportunity are limited to a demographic. What I do think is glaring is that, well, if you take any measurable category (poverty, criminality, class mobility, housing, health outcomes…just pick one), patterns emerge, and they are consistent. Large patterns of problems, even behavior, can usually be understood and treated by looking at the system…not focusing on the individuals serving as the symptoms. This isn’t a perfect analogy by any means, but let’s say a company can’t maintain a steady workforce; there is revolving door of staff…people are getting hired, and quitting, pretty consistently, within a year or two of being hired. Each staff member that leaves is making a personal decision, sure, but if you blame the staff or pin it on the identities of those that come and go,without exploring the “why”, or making structural change, would you expect the problems to go away? In society, let’s use health outcomes as the parallel. There is a correlation between obesity (and related illnesses) and income. Generalization here, but the gist is lower income means less money spent on food. Cheaper food is less healthy and more readily available. So those with less income have a less healthy diet. Of course it gets more complicated when you add all of the other nuances like education, physical activity, access to health care etc. And each person included in that data makes their own food choices, sure. So let them all kill themselves with factory food and no exercise? Maybe…can’t cure lazy…OR….recognize that our food system, among many other things, has major problems and is working against the health (and healthcare costs) of Americans. Systems evolved to unevenly shift opportunity, changing the odds. Back to center: Our history, to me, with regard to racism and classism illustrate a pattern of those in power, protecting their power, by way of preserving the systems, pushing fear, exercising prejudice by exclusion, tactics like victim blaming, huge dollars spent on politicians, the ability to pay lawyers to squash nuisances… Personal responsibility is great, we all agree on that, but the stakes and the risks are different depending on how, where and what you were born.

    Probably should have started with this, but if there isn’t agreement on those basic elements existing, those of a ‘stacked deck’, or if there isn’t basic agreement that prejudices have oppressed many, for centuries, and those powers are still at work now, even if things aren’t as bad as they used to be…if you don’t believe those things, is there really a foundation for meaningful discussion? I guess a question to you would be, do you believe that racism is NOT baked into the structure of our systems? Are there economic, social or political patterns that support this? I’m not interested in statistical outliers to support a position, but do you see evidence of our systems operating such that they truly offer access and opportunity without prejudice?

    If ‘Between the World and Me’ does not provide a compelling account for you, or you take issue with the narrative and information used to support it, I get it. Personally, I do not enjoy Coates’ writing in this book. And although I tried, I never really understood what he meant about race being an illusion, or how, when pointing out race in the rest of the book, it was in those cases *not* an illusion. I am curious to know what other books you have read or researched to understand what marginalized populations experience, now, or have throughout history, at the hands of the system, or of the political, social and financially elite. And “marginalized” can really be a loose term too. We don’t have to exclude Native Americans, women, LGBT, immigrants from countries America don’t trust etc. There are countless examples of our systems being built at the expense of their human rights and freedoms as well. But since the topic here is a story about African Americans, I guess that’s what I’m most curious about.


    1. The substance of your verbiage is that social classes are a necessary part of social reality. If you would read the rest of my essays, you would know that I agree with you. We have always had social class and if we want to continue our struggle to survive and defeat the universe before it defeats us, we will always have social class. However, acknowledging reality and accepting it are two different norms. No one has any ontological, normative obligation to accept their class just as they have no ontological, normative obligation to accept their position in a company workforce. Thus the other side of the coin: history is class struggle. A Utopian reality of equal individuals and no social classes is a dead reality. There is no “foundation for meaningful discussion” only a foundation for meaningful struggle; as the Athenians told the Melians: “But you and we should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that in the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where there is equal power to enforce it, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must.” For the weak to gain any power in life and thus add to social material progress they must fight for it. The war will always eventually be lost but the few battles won materially affect history — often for the better if they occur at the right time and place.

      The danger of modern technological society with its need for uniformity of thought despite pretensions for diversity is that with the aid of con-artists like Coates it will reduce everybody to two classes: the rulers and the lower class consisting of unisex, uniform, solitary, lonely, paper cutout wage slaves who have no basis for social unity and no hope to continue the class struggle. Without race, ethnicity, religion, community, or other form of social cohesion for workers, they are just powerless individuals who “grant what they must”.


  3. You’re wrong in the post about TNC not mentioning the race of the officer. He clearly does as stated in the comment.

    Why don’t you correct it. You’re truly doing exactly what you falsely accused him of doing.

    You’re cheating your readers.


    1. I already responded to this back in September and admitted that in one line in 175 pages of propaganda that is never mentioned again nor analyzed in any of his polemics he admits that the cop worked for a black county and that “I guess I missed it while reading it among all the nonsense and B.S. My error. One honest error does not excuse the harm he intentionally causes by his knowing misrepresentations and omissions” that he continues throughout the media. I am not cheating anyone. If you do not like what I write, do not read it.

      I went ahead and corrected the line anyway. Now that you got your nominal correction, you can continue to ignore the substance of what I said.


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