In the summer of 2013 I saw the film “Fruitvale Station”, and it remains, to this day, the most emotionally taxing experience I’ve ever had inside of a movie theater.
The movie is about the death of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old black man who was fatally shot by Oakland police at a subway station on New Year’s Day 2009. More accurately, it’s about the last 24 hours of Grant’s life. You see the mundane things the average person does on any given day—Grant (played by the immensely talented Michael B. Jordan) argues with his girlfriend, grocery shops for his mother’s New Year’s Eve party, and picks up his daughter from daycare, among other things. In this way, the movie is essential in this age of recorded police killings of Blacks—it humanizes him. Grant’s impending death hangs over the movie like a rain cloud; you want him to have another day to make up with his girlfriend, to buy more groceries, to take his daughter to daycare again. You know he won’t.
“Fruitvale Station” opens with the actual recorded footage of Grant’s death. Through grainy, 2009 era cell phone video I saw a young man who was unarmed and at the mercy of law enforcement who had him facedown and restrained by handcuffs. One officer pulls a gun (in court the officer claims he thought it was a taser) and shoots Grant. In the movie’s version of these events, Jordan’s Grant yells, “You shot me man! I got a daughter!” He’s taken to the hospital. His friends, his mother, and his girlfriend all wait for what the audience knows is coming. Doctors pronounce him dead. The movie closes on Grant’s girlfriend, in the shower with their daughter, visibly distraught, and silent. A movie has never haunted me the way that “Fruitvale Station” did, and still does. I thought about it every day for weeks after I saw it. In particular, I thought about the scene were Grant tries to appeal to the humanity of the police officer that shoots him. How can you shoot me when I have a daughter? I thought about two of my closest friends. Young, Black, male, each with a daughter. Suddenly it wasn’t Oscar Grant I was watching, it was them. I cried in the movie theater.
There have been hundreds of police shootings since “Fruitvale Station” was released. There were hundreds between Oscar Grant’s actual shooting and the time that the movie was made. Each one tears at the psyche of Black Americans. I wish I could say something profound, or articulate in this specific moment about what exactly needs to happen to prevent this from ever happening again. I want to show the overwhelming statistics about how much more likely I am to even be pulled over by a cop, and make the case for institutional judicial racism for those who still refuse to even acknowledge its existence. But right now, I can’t. I’m just tired, and sad. This is our burden. We are connected to each other through these tragedies. In many instances, our race and our grief are indistinguishable. We mourn with the families of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and countless others because we know that they are us. Their rage is ours.
James Baldwin, the greatest American writer, once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” We are conscious of the fact that the police are supposed to protect the citizens of this county, yet we live in fear of police officers who at their subconscious core, view a Black or Brown person as more of a threat to their safety than a White person, and are more likely to draw their gun rather than lend their hand. This is where grief and rage are siblings to the Black American. Grief over lost loved ones. Rage because all we wanted to do was make up with our girlfriend, or buy more groceries, or take our daughter to daycare.