Ta-Nehisi Coates Says We're Having the Wrong Conversation About Police

August 6th 2015

Laura Donovan

Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose second book, "Between the World and Me," was released last month and is a New York Times bestseller, discussed why he doesn't mince words about race and why we need more than police reform in a video for PBS NewsHour.

Coates, who frequently shares his experiences with racial tension growing up in Baltimore, opened the clip by saying he lived during "a very violent time" in the 1980s and 1990s. He went on to say that he's not here to explain racial tension in America in a delicate way so whites can better understand the problem, but as honestly as possible to better serve readers and the country at large.


In our latest #BriefButSpectacular, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent at The Atlantic, gives us his take on race, violence and police reform in America.

Posted by PBS NewsHour on Thursday, July 2, 2015


"I love journalism because it gives you a license to answer all of the questions you have in the back of your mind," he said. "When you write about the impact of white supremacy in this country, there's a great deal of energy spent on making sure that people who are different than you understand what you are saying. I actually think that that corrupts language because you end up softening things and you actually end up insulting people's intelligence. I'm really not thinking about how to get the average white reader to see my perspective. I am trying to communicate as directly and forcefully and honestly as possible."

He added that recent police killings of Black people are not about police reform, but instead reveal a deeper issue about why police are working in so-called "high crime" areas in the first place.

"All of these cases where you see this #BlackLivesMatter movement come up, there's been a great deal of focus on what has been called police reform," he said. "My argument is in fact we have a much, much deeper problem, and that is that we are asking the police to do certain things that maybe they shouldn't do."

Coates used the "horrible" fatal shooting of Walter Scott as an example. In the spring, former police officer Michael T. Slager was indicted on murder charges for shooting Scott in the back after pulling him over for a broken taillight. Scott fled, and Coates said that there's a powerful reason for this.

"One of the reasons why Walter Scott was running was because he had been brought up before on child support cases," Coates said. "But what should we actually be doing about this problem with child support? Is jail actually the answer? Should we actually be jailing people for this? Freddie Gray [who died in police custody earlier this year] is another case. You have a situation where a gentleman is in an area that we've designated as high crime. He makes the mistake of making eye contact with the police officer, and then he runs. The reason why Freddie Gray was arrested was because we've made a decision that we're going to pursue our drug policy in a certain way in that area. Why did we have police there in the first place? Why did we have a situation in which we decide the police will be able to arrest people effectively or stop and search somebody effectively because they look suspicious?"

Real Talk on the War on Drugs from Pres. Obama

"There's an increasing realization that the way we treat non-violent drug crimes is problematic. And from a fiscal perspective it's breaking the bank." Pres. Barack Obama

Posted by ATTN: on Thursday, March 26, 2015


Coates noted that we have a mental health issue, too. People with mental health issues "might end up dead" because of an interaction with a police officer.

"Police officers walk around with guns," he said. "Do we want our mental health workers walking around with guns? There are other ways that we can think about doing this, but we've decided not to. The expectation that catching things on tape is going to save us is, I would say, deeply flawed. Even sometimes when things are caught on tape, like Eric Garner's killing here in New York, that doesn't necessarily mean that anything is going to happen."

In "Between the World and Me," Coates wrote that police killings of Black people represent something deeper than racism in any one individual.

“It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction," he wrote. "It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding ... There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country.”

For more on the sentencing disparities that led to a disproportionate incarceration of Black people, check out this video:

The Real History of Drugs Episode 1: Cocaine

The dark history of why cocaine is illegal...(ATTN: is excited to launch a new series about the history of illegal drugs).

Posted by ATTN: on Sunday, June 21, 2015