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Choose one of the three narratives we read this week and identify at least three pieces of evidence that the author uses to prove his point. Do these pieces of evidence back up his point? Why or why not?

The Paranoid Style of American Policing
Ta-Nehisi Coates, born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1975, began his career in journalism at the
Washington City Paper and contributed to the Village Voice and Time before becoming an editor
and national correspondent at the Atlantic. In 2015, he received both the National Book Award for
Nonfiction for his autobiography, Between the World and Me (2015), and a visiting fellowship at the
American Library in Paris.
Coates’s essay, “The Paranoid Style of American Policing,” was first published in the Atlantic on
December 30, 2015. In it, he addresses the rise in police violence against the black community and
the loss of trust that many have in the police as an agent of order and justice. As you read, think
about your own interactions with the police — either casual or perhaps more formal. Does what
Coates says ring true for your experience?
When I was around 10 years old, my father confronted a young man who was said to be “crazy.”
The young man was always too quick to want to fight. A foul in a game of 21 was an insult to his
honor. A cross word was cause for a duel, and you never knew what that cross word might be. One
day, the young man got into it with one of my older brother’s friends. The young man pulled a metal
stake out of the ground (there was some work being done nearby) and began swinging it wildly in a
threatening manner. My father, my mother, or my older brother — I don’t recall which — told the
other boy to go inside of our house. My dad then came outside. I don’t really remember what my
father said to the young man. Perhaps he said something like “Go home,” or maybe something like,
“Son, it’s over.” I don’t really recall. But what I do recall is that my dad did not shoot and kill the
young man.
That wasn’t the first time I’d seen my father confront the violence of young people without resorting
to killing them. This was not remarkable. When you live in communities like ours — or perhaps any
community — mediating violence between young people is part of being an adult. Sometimes the
young people are involved in scary behavior — like threatening people with metal objects. And yet
the notion that it is permissible, wise, moral, or advisable to kill such a person as a method of deescalation, to kill because one was afraid, did not really exist among parents in my community.
The same could not be said for those who came from outside of the community.
This weekend, after a Chicago police officer killed her 19-year-old son Quintonio LeGrier, Janet
Cooksey struggled to understand the mentality of the people she pays to keep her community safe:
“What happened to Tasers? Seven times my son was shot,” Cooksey said.
“The police are supposed to serve and protect us and yet they take the lives,” Cooksey said.
“Where do we get our help?” she asked.
LeGrier had struggled with mental illness. When LeGrier attempted to break down his father’s door,
his father called the police, who apparently arrived to find the 19-year-old wielding a bat.
Interpreting this as a lethal threat, one of the officers shot and killed LeGrier and somehow
managed to shoot and kill one of his neighbors, Bettie Jones. Cooksey did not merely have a
problem with how the police acted, but with the fact that the police were even called in the first
place. “He should have called me,” Cooksey said of LeGrier’s father.
Instead, the father called the Chicago Police Department. Likely he called them because he invested
them with some measure of legitimacy. This is understandable. In America, police officers are
agents of the state and thus bound by the social contract in a way that criminals, and even random
citizens, are not. Criminals and random citizens are not paid to protect other citizens. Police
officers are. By that logic, one might surmise that the police would be better able to mediate
conflicts than community members. In Chicago, this appears, very often, not to be the case.
It will not do to note that 99 percent of the time the police mediate conflicts without killing people
anymore than it will do for a restaurant to note that 99 percent of the time rats don’t run through
the dining room. Nor will it do to point out that most black citizens are killed by other black citizens,
not police officers, anymore than it will do to point out that most American citizens are killed by
other American citizens, not terrorists. If officers cannot be expected to act any better than ordinary
citizens, why call them in the first place? Why invest them with any more power?
Legitimacy is what is ultimately at stake here. When Cooksey says that her son’s father should not
have called the police, when she says that they “are supposed to serve and protect us and yet they
take the lives,” she is saying that police in Chicago are police in name only. This opinion is widely
shared. Asked about the possibility of an investigation, Melvin Jones, the brother of Bettie Jones,
could muster no confidence. “I already know how that will turn out,” he scoffed. “We all know how
that will turn out.”
Indeed, we probably do. Two days after Jones and LeGrier were killed, a district attorney in Ohio
declined to prosecute the two officers who drove up, and within two seconds of arriving, killed the
12-year-old Tamir Rice. No one should be surprised by this. In America, we have decided that it is
permissible, that it is wise, that it is moral for the police to de-escalate through killing. A standard
which would not have held for my father in West Baltimore, which did not hold for me in Harlem, is
reserved for those who have the maximum power — the right to kill on behalf of the state. When
police cannot adhere to the standards of the neighborhood, of citizens, or of parents, what are they
beyond a bigger gun and a sharper sword? By what right do they enforce their will, save force itself?
When policing is delegitimized, when it becomes an occupying force, the community suffers. The
neighbor-on-neighbor violence in Chicago, and in black communities around the country, is not an
optical illusion. Policing is (one) part of the solution to that violence. But if citizens don’t trust
officers, then policing can’t actually work. And in Chicago, it is very hard to muster reasons for
When Bettie Jones’s brother displays zero confidence in an investigation into the killing of his
sister, he is not being cynical. He is shrewdly observing a government that executed a young
man and sought to hide that fact from citizens. He is intelligently assessing a local
government which, for two decades, ran a torture ring. What we have made of our police
departments [in] America, what we have ordered them to do, is a direct challenge to any
usable definition of democracy. A state that allows its agents to kill, to beat, to tase, without
any real sanction, has ceased to govern and has commenced to simply rule.

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