Followed through three separate jurisdictions by a Prince George’s County, Md., police officer in an unmarked car, Prince Jones – a 25-year-old Howard University junior – was shot in Fairfax County, Va. and died September 1. The exact details surrounding the incident remain unclear. What is readily apparent, though, is that this situation should never have occurred.
Cpl. Jones was outside of his jurisdiction. A Maryland police officer, he has limited authority in Virginia. Why he followed Prince Jones from Maryland through the District and into Virginia is a question Fairfax prosecutors must determine. But taking into account several factors, Cpl. Jones appears to have shadowed Prince Jones because he fit a certain stereotype or profile.
Prince Jones was black. He was driving a late-model Jeep Cherokee through a D.C. area known for drug activity. It was late at night, and the car had out-of-state tags. Cpl. Jones, looking for a similar vehicle driven by a man suspected in drug activity and the theft of a police officer’s gun, took these factors into account when he pursued the Howard student.
But Cpl. Jones is also black. The series of judgment errors that led to Prince Jones’ death seem to begin not with racial profiling but with the Prince George’s County Police Department. In the past 13 months, Prince George’s County Police shot 12 people. These are just the most dramatic of complaints against the department, complaints that have prompted many citizens and public officials to call for the resignation of the department’s chief.
Perhaps the culture of American law enforcement is also to blame for the deaths of Prince Jones and other young minorities in cities across the country. The War on Drugs is being fought as a war against the people, an all-out assault on citizens. Officers seem to forget that the people they suspect of violating the law are citizens who are afforded the same civil liberties and protections as the officers themselves. Police officers and law enforcement agencies have assumed a very dangerous us against them mentality. The deaths of Prince Jones and other assaults and reports of brutality appear to be the natural result.
All this aside, a man – a student and a father – is dead, shot by a police officer sworn to protect the citizens he serves. This is a tragedy.