Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Why does Prince Jones' story significantly affect Coates in Between the World and Me?

Quick answer:

The story of Prince Jones affects Coates so much for two reasons. First, because he was a close friend of his. Second, because the manner of his death epitomized for him the nature of racial injustice in America.

Jones was shot dead by an undercover police officer, who wrongly believed he was a drug dealer. The officer was never prosecuted for the killing, which took Coates, as he puts it, "[F]rom fear to... rage".

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Prince Jones was a schoolmate and very close friend of Ta-Nehisi Coates. In September of 2000 he was shot to death by an undercover Prince George's County, Maryland police officer, who wrongly believed him to be a drug dealer. Controversially, the officer in question was never prosecuted, leading to widespread anger and discontent in the African American community.

Coates was utterly devastated by what happened. But before long, his sadness at the death of a friend turned into outright anger at what he saw as yet another act of racial injustice. As Coates tells us himself, the killing of his close friend took him "[F]rom fear to a rage. . .and will likely leave me on fire for the rest of my days."

Coates was so deeply angered by the killing of Prince Jones that when Al-Qaeda launched its terror attack against America on 9/11, he was unable to distinguish between the cop who'd shot his friend and those officers who sought to save lives at the flaming Twin Towers:

I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died [on September 11]. They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were the menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could—with no justification—shatter my body.

For Coates, the personal is very much the political. For him, the death of Prince Jones wasn't just the tragic loss of a friend; it was a political act carried out by the functionary of a state whose very foundations are based on white supremacy and racial oppression.

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