“Between the World and Me” author Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award for nonfiction last night.
During his acceptance speech, Coates told the crowd that at the “core” of his decision to write the book was “the death, the murder, the killing of my friend Prince Carmen Jones.”
Jones, Coates’ classmate at Howard and the son of a radiologist, was shot to death by an undercover narcotics officer in Fairfax, Virginia, on September 1, 2000. The officer’s account described a case of mistaken identity, though the suspect and Jones had a ten-inch height differential; the former sporting dreadlocks, the latter with closely cropped hair.
Coates described Jones as “an exceptional, exceptional student” who “could’ve gone to Harvard, could’ve gone to Princeton, could’ve gone to Yale.”
“I’ve never met an individual that was just so filled with love and compassion,” Coates added.
Coates attributed Jones’ death to America’s “notion that we are okay with the presumption that Black people somehow have an angle, somehow have a predisposition towards criminality.”
Jones’ killer was never found guilty and, as of 2006, was still working in the Prince George County police department’s technical services division.
“I can’t secure the safety of my son. I can’t go home and tell him that it’s going to be okay, ‘You definitely will not end up like Prince Jones,’” Coates said. “I just don’t have that right, I just don’t have that power.”
What power he does have, Coates concluded, is to say, “You won’t enroll me in this lie.”
Watch Coates’ full acceptance speech below: