Coates has become famous for his writings on the history of race in America. His work on mass incarceration, housing discrimination and police brutality has examined the historical causes of the most devastating events affecting the Black community.
“I can’t secure the safety of my son,” he said, referring to the untimely death many Black men face at the hands of the police. “I just don’t have that power. But what I do have the power to do is say, ‘You won’t enroll me in this lie. You won’t make me part of it.’ “
Coates’ friend, Prince Jones, was murdered by police during a traffic stop. The two were friends at Howard University and Coates described him as “a father, and a man of faith who never hesitated to dispense a religious aphorism to friends.”
It is no secret that Jones is the reason Coates began to write. In 2001, he wrote about the unjust killing of his friend in The Washington Monthly. He revealed that the Prince George’s County officer’s report conflicted with the image Jones’ created for himself. While on the way to his girlfriend’s house, Jones was involved in a routine traffic that ended with multiple shots in his back. Coates believed that his friend was a good man in a bad situation like so many Black people have been while dealing with law enforcement.
“Every day you turn on the TV and see some kind of violence being directed at black people,” Coates said in his acceptance speech. “Over and over and over again. And it keeps happening.”