Womans death reopens wounds
Ronnie Gilstrap, who is white, knew one thing already Ñ that his 6-month-old son Justin Michael Bradley, the offspring of a relationship with a black woman, will have a good life É but also will face more scrutiny from police than he does.
'Justin is well-loved and will have a good life,' Gilstrap said last week, 'but I am sure he will be singled out sometimes.'
I watched with awe and suspense as Gilstrap's misty blue eyes peered cautiously into the dark cathedral of the Mt. Zion Church in North Portland. In his hands was baby Justin, full of life. A few feet away lay Kendra James, lifeless and ready for burial. Gilstrap is a cousin of James' by marriage.
It was yet another illustration of the twisted relationship between the black community and the Portland Police Bureau, the latest loop in the knot having been tied by the May 5 shooting that led to James' death.
Since James' death, many speeches Ñ couched almost exclusively in terms of racial tension Ñ have threatened to trivialize this serious case.
Behind all the clichŽs, however, some community leaders are appropriately raising the question of possible civil rights violations. But we also must be clear on another point, for the sake of the living: that attempting to elude the police Ñ especially when you have a long record of drug abuse Ñ puts you many miles closer to your own grave.
The easy thing to do here is blame James' death on her social pathology alone. But I cannot do so fairly without noting that the statute that gives police license to use deadly force in response to what they 'reasonably believe' to be an immediate threat is a blanket amnesty. As long as that policy remains, James' funeral will not be the last surrounded by controversy Ñ and certainly, not the last tense moment between police and the black community.
What is sad in this current saga is that we have invented sweeping slogans to camouflage and gloss over the unpleasant truth about the relationship between police and blacks. Candidly, there is very little trust of any law enforcement agents Ñ and especially police officers Ñ in black communities. Another thing: A sizable number of white police officers are, deep down, slightly paranoid about their contacts with black men. Throw that in the midst of fervor, overzealousness and dope, and the end product is a body bag filled with a dead addict.
As a prescription for this madness, many have suggested more cultural diversity training. I don't buy that. Warehousing cops in diversity classes won't work unless there is a will and an incentive to acculturate. Simply, there are things you just cannot force; human attitude is one of them. How much diversity training did the officer who shot James have before he pulled the trigger? Your guess is as good as mine.
Even though the tragic death of James feeds blacks' fears about police, this is not the time to yield to mistrust, unmitigated suspicion and racial diatribes. There is too much at stake.