The essay "The Paranoid Style of American Policing" by Ta-Nehisi Coates first appeared in The Atlantic on December 30, 2015. It begins with an anecdote from Coates's childhood. When he was ten years old, Coates witnessed a volatile, easily-angered young man threaten to attack one of Coates's brother's friends with...
The essay "The Paranoid Style of American Policing" by Ta-Nehisi Coates first appeared in The Atlantic on December 30, 2015. It begins with an anecdote from Coates's childhood. When he was ten years old, Coates witnessed a volatile, easily-angered young man threaten to attack one of Coates's brother's friends with a metal spike. Coates's father sent the potential victim into his house and then confronted the angry young man.
The point that Coates makes in telling about this incident is that his father did not threaten to shoot and kill the young man but merely persuaded him to go away. Coates points out that he had seen his father defuse potential violence before without killing anyone. He states that in the community in which he grew up, it was considered morally unacceptable to kill someone out of fear or in an effort to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation.
Coates contrasts the attitude of his father with that of the Chicago police. He recounts an incident of a nineteen-year-old boy with mental illness problems trying to break down his father's door with a bat. Instead of calling the boy's mother, the father called the police. When the police arrived, they shot and killed the boy and also a young woman who was a neighbor.
Coates speculates that the father probably called the police because he envisioned them in their role as legitimate protectors of citizens. However, Coates surmises that the Chicago police are not competent in the role they are required to fulfill. In Coates's reasoning, it doesn't matter that most of the time when police are resolving conflicts they don't shoot people or that most of the time black citizens are killed by people who are not policemen.
Instead of fulfilling their legitimate function, policemen take the lives of those they are supposed to protect. This causes citizens to distrust them and to expect that they can expect no fairness in investigations of policemen who are hasty to shoot citizens.
Americans have decided that it is permissible for police to de-escalate situations involving potential violence by killing. The police become an occupying force, and policing becomes ineffective because citizens do not trust the people who are supposed to protect them. In Coates's opinion, the role that police departments play in America is a challenge to democracy, and a state that allows its police to perpetuate violence on and to kill its citizens is not governing properly.