Stevante Clark, the brother of Stephon Clark, hugs a supporter at a rally on March 31 in Sacramento. (Bob Strong/Reuters)
Columnist

It does not matter what it was to begin with. A wallet. A pipe. A cellphone. It makes no difference. The phenomenon remains the same every time.

In the morning, it is very clearly a cellphone. Anyone who looks at it can see it.

In the afternoon, it is still very clearly a cellphone. It sends texts. It makes calls. Its screen lights up.

But in the evening, the transformation occurs. A police officer sees the cellphone, sees that the hand holding it belongs to a black man, and suddenly, quite without warning, it becomes a gun.

This keeps happening.

Suppose we close all the gun shows. Suppose we close all the loopholes. Suppose we take guns off the shelves at sporting goods stores. It will not matter, because of this mysterious phenomenon (observed mostly by police officers in the moments before an “officer-involved shooting”) where a completely innocuous object becomes, for a moment or two, a gun. It can even be a child who picks it up.

It cannot be that police officers do not know what guns look like. They seem perfectly capable of wielding them themselves. It is not that they do not know what cellphones look like. It can only be magic, and the magic does not change.

On April 4, it was a metal pipe. The man who held it was named Saheed Vassell. He was the father of a teenage son. It scarcely took 27 seconds for officers to see the pipe transform into a gun. By the time he was dead, it had already changed back.

Later, when officers are called upon to justify their actions in these deaths, what matters is not whether their fear was reasonable, but whether the fear was real. And what is more frightening than impossible sorcery? Fear brings a magic all its own, by which cellphones become guns and people “bulk up” to run through bullets. It transforms teenagers into Hulk Hogan, into demons. You cannot say for certain what object will mutate next. It could be a Bible. It could be a hand in a pocket. With a fear so immense, you are right to act no matter how harmless the target may seem — whether it is a cellphone, or a pipe, or a father, or a child.

That is what makes these deaths justified: that moment of fear, that transforms something ordinary — a father, an iPhone — and makes it deadly. If these things could not be, if there were no fearful magic involved, these deaths would be utterly senseless.

No, it certainly cannot be that it is not happening at all.

So it is clear we can never solve the gun epidemic in this country. It is not because we cannot pass the laws. It is because there is sorcery happening, and until we stop this sorcery, there can be no progress.