Fresh off his very successful run of the newest Black Panther series, the venerable Ta-Nehisi Coates brings the Wakandan king to Harlem and gives him a crew: Storm, Luke Cage, Manifold, and Misty Knight.
But first, a little history; stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
A black citizen engaging in a peaceful protest is arrested. While in police custody, he dies in his cell. The investigation into what happened is dragging and suspicious. The tension between the city’s people of color and law enforcement is dangerously high. Citizens march in the street, demanding answers and fearing a coverup.
This could be any number of real-life events in the past three years alone. And this is the setting in Harlem when “We Are the Streets Part 1: Double Consciousness” begins. The dead activist, Ezra Keith, was well-known for challenging the local police and city officials about their treatment of the people of Harlem.
Ezra’s niece and nephew, Hazel and Malik, ask Detective Misty Knight if she’ll help them get to the truth. Misty declines, at first, but after a visit to the jail cell in which Ezra died, she recognizes that her colleagues are in CYA mode; and to make it worse, she’s sure they don’t know who they’re covering for or why; they’re loyal to the badge. Misty is as well, but she’s experienced enough to know something isn’t adding up. Truth and justice may be the only things that can keep Harlem from exploding, and if she has to put away some dirty cops to ensure truth and justice are achieved, so be it. She comes away from the jail with a name – Eddie Figures – and the news that a full minute of security footage is missing from the night Ezra died.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to take on Ezra’s case is Hazel and Malik’s friend, Storm; though she’s not going by that name (she’s calling herself Blue), and disguises hide her most noticeable features. Storm’s father knew Ezra and she spent some of her childhood in Harlem. At this point in the story, Misty doesn’t yet know who Ezra really was – eventually she’ll make the connection according to her narration.
It turns out Ezra been about social justice for a long time, and back in the late ’50s, he assembled a crew of super-powered heroes who helped him take on New York City’s criminal elements. If someone else made the connection from Ezra to the name he went by decades ago, Lynx, is it possible that’s what got him killed? Knowing who he really is may have made him a target of both corrupt police and criminal gangs still up in their feelings.
Everyone in Harlem is on edge, there’s a curfew, and the city has hired mechanized and militarized private security firm, Americops, to keep law and order. This includes trying to arrest Misty and Storm in a park for being out after curfew. It was, unfortunately, an all too real depiction of the excessive force some police have shown when dealing with black citizens.
The people involved in covering up of Ezra’s death and those Americops made a huge mistake; their attack in the park has now guaranteed that Misty is in the crew.
This was a wonderful first issue. In just three pages Coates gave Ezra Keith much depth. He’s dead in the present day, but it’s easy to understand who he was and what he stood for, and therefore we’re instantly invested in getting to the truth. How Misty will handle looking into her own police department should be interesting. Like she said, the law is her tribe, but right now the streets are in trouble.