Ta-Nehisi Coates

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What is the author's claim in "The Paranoid Style of American Policing" and what is your critique of it?

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"The Paranoid Style of American Policing" is an article by African American author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (born September 30, 1975) originally published in The Atlantic on 30 December 2015. Its central argument is that a "paranoid" style of policing leads to escalation of violence, especially against African Americans, by police, resulting in avoidable tragedies. While many of the points in the article are good, and especially the way it raises issues of police ethics and the importance of community, one could argue that it avoids analyzing an important contributory factor. In my opinion, the main weakness of the article is that it does not address the issue of the wide availability of guns.

In countries such as Britain, Canada, Japan, or those of the European Union, where private ownership of handguns is far rarer than the United States, it is easier for police to intervene peacefully in a tense situation, talking to an upset teenager rather than shooting. The wide availability of guns in the United States makes every confrontation between the police and citizens one that is potentially life-threatening for the police, as any upset teenager or drunk or mentally unstable individual may be carrying a lethal weapon. It is this that accounts for the escalation observed for many officers, as hesitating may result in being shot. The article would be improved if it raised the issue of how the presence of lethal weaponry in the hands of so many people is a major cause of the paranoid style he describes.

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