“You Knew….And Still My Boy Is Dead”

In Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 horror film Jaws, a high school drama teacher named Lee Fierro plays the mother whose son was killed by the shark. In a memorable scene, she walks up to the local police chief and slaps him after learning he knew that a girl was killed after a shark attack. “You knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyway,” she told him while crying. “You knew all those things and still my boy is dead now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.

It’s a powerful, even unforgettable scene, payback for the failure of leadership that led directly to death.

I now live in the town that represents Amity in Jaws (Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard, where Lee Fierro taught drama to high school students. Reminders of the film are everywhere: The Chappy Ferry, the “Amity Hardware” sign in the local hardware store are just two examples.

When I’m lucky, I also hear stories about the production that took place 46 years ago. Here’s one particularly relevant anecdote: That memorable slapping scene required 19 takes. That’s right, she slapped Amity Police Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider, NINETEEN times before Director Steven Spielberg was satisfied.

But that was just one fictionalized death, and one slap across the face. How many people who have lost family to Covid-19 would line up to slap the face of Donald Trump, who knew in January that the virus was airborne and far more dangerous than the flu? How many of us would like to say, to his face, “You knew all those things and still my (parent, spouse, child) is dead now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Make no mistake about it: Trump knowingly lied to us, time and again. Here’s one example from Los Angeles. The Washington Post compiled this helpful list of 34 different occasions. He never told the truth, and 207,000 Americans died.

And Trump wasn’t the only one who knew but failed to speak out. His national security team told him. Should they have resigned when he lied to the American people? They didn’t, and Americans died.

Bob Woodward knew that Trump knew because Trump admitted as much in a series of interviews, but he said nothing until the book was ready to be sold. If he had spoken out–released the transcripts–in May or June or July, that might have saved 100,000 American lives

When Lee Fierro died in April at age 91, Los Angeles Times Columnist Mary McNamara wrote the following powerful words:

Fierro’s turn as Mrs. Kintner remains one of the most powerful scenes in “Jaws.” She is there to remind the audience that each person who is lost leaves grief and desolation in his or her wake. And, more important, that this loss, grief and desolation must be laid at the feet of those officials who chose to ignore the facts, the experts and the obvious. Those mayors and safety inspectors and presidents who, because it was easier for them, chose to simply hope for the best.

We are all Mrs. Kintner now. …..

You knew, Mr. President. You knew there was a shark out there, you knew it was dangerous, you knew we were not prepared — and now our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors are dead.

Let’s go back to that scene and the 19 takes. Suppose, just suppose, that 207,000 grieving survivors got to slap Donald Trump in the face. And suppose it took each of them NINETEEN takes to get their slap right.

That’s close to FOUR MILLION slaps across the face on Donald J. Trump!

While it may make your day to imagine a massive ‘SLAP-ATHON,’ it’s not going to happen. Instead, you can figuratively slap Trump on November 3rd. Vote him out, along with all his enablers who hold elective office, people like Senators McConnell, Graham, Collins, McSally, Tillis, and Ernst. Urge others to register and vote, particularly if they live in swing states. Donate to candidates up and down the ballot.

Do everything you possibly can to hold Trump accountable–and to reclaim our country.

11 thoughts on ““You Knew….And Still My Boy Is Dead”

  1. Nice analogy, even though I don’t feel the animus for Chief Brody that I do for Trump — a small town police chief vs. POTUS. Everyone knows JAWS.

    John

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  2. As usual, John, you have touched the heart of situations like these. And (like you, it seems) I would place part of the guilt upon Woodward. Here (sorry so long) is an epsode from the ’60’s Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” which some of your older readers might recall. It should be required viewing for the Biden team; I find it frightenly relevant to US today.
    “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (CBS, March 4, 1960) [original B&W version on internet is best.]
    The final scene closes as the once-peaceful townspeople erupt at each other with rocks and guns.

    The final conversation between two “human” characters from the spaceship addresses the paranoia that comes from ignorance and distrust:

    “Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawnmowers. Throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then sit back and watch the pattern.”
    “And this pattern is always the same?”
    “With a few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find…and it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.”
    “Then I take it this place, this Maple Street, is not unique?”
    “By no means. Their world is full of Maple Streets. And we’ll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other…one to the other…one to the other.”

    Epilogue by Rod Serling: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”

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  3. Today, on our 46th anniversary, JoAnn and I voted. We also contributed to several causes promoting greater justice, and been helping several local, state and national campaigns. We’re also assisting a national effort to encourage high school students to serve as election judges, and to encourage eligible youth to vote. This is being led by a district/charter/community/state partnership that started in Maine.

    Hopefully all who read your post will use their time, energy and other resources to promote justice. Thanks for your encouragement, John.

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    • To Joe Nathan: As a (barely) former high school teacher, I’d love to know how I, too could help in that HS student election judge effort. Also, encouraging our young voters to get out there and vote! Thanks for your comment and letting me know. gtdewey3@outlook.com

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      • George, thanks for your note. The first thing to do would be to check with your local or county election bureau (or whoever runs elections in your state). Many states are allowing high school students to be election judges – either volunteer or in some cases paid. If that is an option, you could connect with colleagues at your former high school and share this information.

        You also might want to connect with your favorite political party to ask if they have a group that is working on encouraging youth vote in the area or state. Many states do. You could ask how you can help with that.
        Finally, you might pick one or two of your favorite advocacy groups and ask if they have an effort to encourage youth vote. Again, many do. If yes, you could assist with that.

        Or you could pick an organization and work with young people (former students and others) to create a local social media presence.
        Does any of this make sense?

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      • John, thanks. It’s especially poignant today with the news of Trumps alleged illness. (I said alleged because I believe virtually nothing he says at this point). I did not know until your blog that the person who portrayed the furious mother was a drama teacher on the island.

        Hope you are staying safe and please keep writing.
        SIncerely

        Joe

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