Every December, The Atlantic looks back on the previous year—to highlight not just the “big moments” but the progression of “big ideas.” Below, the second of three installments looks at the year in race-relations coverage.
U.S. race relations were on a downward slide as 2015 began. The previous November, a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The case propelled the issue of police violence—and racism—into the national spotlight. But it was just one of many.
In March, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about a due-process double standard in “The Gangsters of Ferguson.” It was a big year for Coates, too: He was named a MacArthur Fellow for his writing on race, and he took home the National Book Award for Between the World and Me, an exploration of the heritage of black exploitation that The Atlantic excerpted as “Letter to my Son.” Ferguson’s institutional problems run deep, and Walter Johnson highlighted one of them—the reliance on fines and fees from its poorest residents—in, “Ferguson’s Fortune 500 Company.”
In April, Freddie Gray died in Baltimore police custody, and the nation erupted once again. Conor Friedersdorf dug into “The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore.” A string of questionable police killings led Jason Lee Steorts to ask, “When Should Cops Be Able to Use Deadly Force?” In June, Matt Ford reported that “America’s Largest Mental Hospital Is a Jail” and highlighted one prison’s attempt to treat the mentally ill better. In September, Jeffrey Goldberg explored Louisiana’s efforts to end a black murder epidemic: “A Matter of Black Lives.”