Black Lives: Beyond the Numbers

Ta-Nehisi CoatesWe are in the midst of a debate around criminal justice right now, a timid one no doubt, but a debate nonetheless. In the midst of such debates it is customary for pundits, politicians, and writers like me to sally forth with numbers to demonstrate the breadth and width of the great American carceral state. The numbers are, indeed, bracing and are not hard to find. The fact that African Americans comprise some one in 200 of all known people in the world, and yet African American men comprise one in 12 of all known prisoners has always given me pause…

There should be an accounting beyond numbers for these years, something that goes beyond the failures of state budgets, something that goes beyond the the insanity of our policy. Something that captures the grandmothers beaten on traffic islands, the daughters shoved face first into the ground, the son shot while playing, the man choked to death over cigarettes, or for producing his license, or for being mentally ill, or for playing cops and robbers, or for sport. This is more than mistaken policy. This is cruelty — the long war to save the blacks from themselves.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Brief and Tragic Life of Kalief Browder

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