A Little More On Prince Jones


Some folks asked about my buddy from Howard who was murdered by a police officer. The Washington Post did a very good investigation of the case, unfortunately it's behind a curtain. Here's a piece on the settlement. Here's some info on the cop, who is a piece of work, to put it mildly. And here's the reason I started writing. I knew for years that the Prince George's County police department was one of the most brutal in the nation, and had wanted to write about them. Prince's murder gave me that last push. It really was a small act. But it was something, and it was better than sitting at home stewing.

What's not in that article, is the profound personal effect Prince's death had on me. When I went down to his memorial service at Howard, I was upset, but not beside myself with grief. Truthfully, Prince had closer friends than me, and we'd been out of touch for a year or so. But I was disturbed, and didn't realize how profoundly until a year later when 9/11 happened. Everyone I knew was deeply shaken by it. And yet, again, I was disturbed, but not as grief-stricken as most of my friends.

I have a weird way of dealing with big, emotional events. My brain moves slow, and I tend to experience things in waves--it took weeks for me to understand, emotionally, what Obama's election meant. Ditto for 9/11, except longer. And then one night I woke up yelling and bawling like a four-year old.  I'd had this dream where I saw Prince, alive and well, and tried to warn him, repeatedly, of the impending danger. But whenever I tried to explain, he would cut me off and tell me he didn't want to know.

This was a few months after 9/11. Kenyatta had repeatedly admonished me for being cold whenever someone talked about the attacks.I think I'm an atheist who's yet to come to terms with this fact. I didn't have a spiritual lens to interpret Prince's death or 9/11. I never believed in spirits sending you messages in dreams. But I did have a very concrete epiphany. The world had ended for my old friend, much as it had ended for all the victims of 9/11. But whereas we were hell-bent on bringing justice to Al'Qaeda, I knew that there would be no justice for Prince. The cop would keep his job, they'd rule the murder justifiable, and people would accept the death of a hard-working father, and a college student, the way the accepted the death of Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo. It's the cost of doing business. And it's a cost born mostly by us.

I can't tell you how angry that made me. And anger breeds hate and blindness. And so for a good year, after 9/11 I was blind. I couldn't feel what this city was feeling. My son was almost two, and the thought of raising him right and him still becoming "a cost of doing business" filled me with fear--and more anger. The idea that someone, whose salary you were paying, could be lethally incompetent and yet continue to keep their job just burned me.

Emotions aren't moral. I wouldn't defend how I felt, and as time passed, and I came out of the anger, I came to feel deep shame for not participating in the public mourning after 9/11, for seeking to construct a morbid equation from death. I don't think Prince's murder justifies that. But it was how I felt. I simply didn't know how to cope.

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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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