The problem of police brutality

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Ladies and gentlemen, I direct your attention to the Maryland's Prince George's County police department, which is, to my mind, the most brutal police department in America. You can read all about them here. But to give you some facts on these jokers--since 2000, they have paid out some $20 million in lawsuits for brutality. Now it's been discovered that one of the officers at a jail in PG county likely murdered a suspect in the killing of an officer.

I want to first say I've always thought it was arrogant and twisted that cops somehow are more outraged by the murder of a fellow officer, than the murder of some kid in the street. A cop is paid to risk his life. It's in the job description. But I digress. PG County has always been interesting to me for deeply personal reasons. First, it is home to the greatest concentration of black wealth in the country, and probably in the world. PG County is the only municipality in America to grow richer as it grew blacker. More pointedly, it's the only place I've ever seen that actually benefited, economically, from white flight. But despite this great largess, these guys have the sort of cops that swing night-sticks first and ask questions much, much later.

This is not mere theory to me. The picture you see above is of my old friend Prince Jones, fellow Howard University student, father to a baby girl, and great, great guy. People always say that, but I mean it. Me and Prince were in love with the same woman for a period of time, but he always carried it with class. Of course, you can see by the photo he was a handsome fellow, so it could be, that he just always had options. He's pictured in this post because eight years ago a PG county cop took Prince for a drug dealer, followed him from through Washington, into Virginia and then promptly shot him right outside the home of his girlfriend and baby daughter.

I am going to try to be fair about this. The cop was in an unmarked car, and wasn't wearing a uniform. According to his own testimony, he basically cornered Prince's car pulled out a gun--but no badge--and IDed himself as an officer. Prince. whose vehicle was hemmed in, rammed the cops car. The cop shot him Prince and he died. The officer was presumably in pursuit of a "suspect." But the suspect looked nothing like Prince, except that they were both black. All I could think when that happened was about what I would have done. The way we come up, if a black dude with dreads (which is how officer Carlton Jones looked) is following you and then he corners you, pulls a gun, but doesn't have a badge, you don't assume he's cop. You assume he's trying to rob you.

If people want to know why tempatures flair over, say, a Sean Bell, it's because the only denominator in all of these cases is color. The fact that Prince was doing the right thing with his life--raising a baby girl, finishing up a degree--meant nothing. He ended up in the same way as a suspected cop-killer. It was later found that the officer who killed Prince had lied in several drug cases, all of which had to be tossed out. Think Carlton Jones was tossed off the force for, essentially, malpractice? No. Dude was cleared of all charges, and as of 2006, is back on the PG County force, "protecting" your children.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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