In the book of virtues there is a special chapter on resilience.
We start out each year with the faith that we are beginning anew or at least doing something akin to hitting the refresh bar on life's browser. But we keep loading the same content.
In the case of black folk there is an uncalculated reserve of resilient faith in the better that Obama's campaign drew upon and for a minute it seemed as if our investments in this country's capacity to change were about to pay the highest dividends possible.
Forgive me if I'm metaphor hopping. My basic point is this: three black men have been shot by police in the first eight days of 2009. Two of them fatally; two of them unarmed -- the other had a license to carry the weapon found on his body.
In Oakland Oscar Grant (22) was shot while prone and completely defenseless on the pavement of a BART station. In New Orleans Adolph Grimes (22) was shot 14 times in front of his grandmother's house. Police are saying that he shot at them first but that doesn't explain why twelve of their bullets hit him in the back.
Houston cops shot Robbie Tolan (23) in his own driveway after assuming the car he drove with friends was stolen. He is currently hospitalized. His father said: If these had been white kids, this does not happen.
And that's the point.
I'm a 39 year old college professor who has no criminal record, has never used an illegal drug and (aside from a failed stint as a graffiti artist when I was 15) have not committed any crimes. Yet I had police pull guns on me on three separate occasions before I reached the age at which Oscar Grant and Adolph Grimes were killed.
There is a fragmentary calculus that goes into deciding who is a threat and who isn't; when to pull the trigger and when to issue a warning. And cops are among that handful of people who go to work each day with a realistic expectation that they might not return home.
But the other side of this is that black people pay taxes to fund public servants who are disproportionately prone to kill us. It happens frequently enough that the events now follow a bitterly cliche script.
Outraged activists pour into the streets demanding the prosecution of the cops for murder and an enhanced civilian review board. The police bureaucracy stonewalls whle PBA lawyers work up schemes for plausible deniability. The media spins out two weeks worth of it's-a-shame stories: the shot of the police tape; the interview with the family; the brief update on the funeral; the non-descript statement from the chief of police. The cycle ends with an even smaller note about the internal review clearing all officers of wrongdoing (unless the decision sparks a riot.)
I think that we should change the approach. My suggestion would be that the communities demand the resignation of the police officers -- not a murder prosecution. In most cases the bar for convicting a cop of outright murder is so high as to be nearly impossible to get a verdict (you can bet that the shooter in the Grant case will say that his weapon accidentally discharged.)
After Amadou Diallo was gunned down in the Bronx, the D.A. almost gleefully brought murder charges against the cops. They got to look as if they were taking community concerns seriously and simultaneously assure the cops that by overshooting the evidence they would almost certainly not be convicted.
If anything the push should be for negligence charges, arguing that this is the police equivalent of malpractice. And then bring a large civil suit.
James Baldwin once said that bureaucracies cannot understand human suffering; they only understand threats to their own continued existence. He was talking about the offhanded responses to the deaths of black children in Atlanta but it remains sadly valid in the case of black men gunned down by men in blue.