Recording Angel with a Camera

‘Fruitvale Station’

In Oakland, California, during the early morning of January 1, 2009, Oscar Julius Grant, a twenty-two-year-old African American, was shot and mortally wounded by an almost equally young policeman who later said he thought he was firing his taser, not his gun. Before he was shot, Grant, detained for allegedly brawling on a train, had been ordered to lie face-down on the platform of Fruitvale Station; he had complied and was perhaps struggling for breath in an uncomfortable position, which is perhaps what provoked the cop to reach for the taser. There are lots of perhapses in this case, but it was certainly a tragedy in the usual pathetic sense of the word: an event that caused great suffering. Was it also a social tragedy underpinned by bigotry and injustice? And could it also have been a tragedy in the classic sense—a terrible fate befalling an individual whose suffering was somehow at one with the way he lived? To answer yes to that last question is not to blame the victim, for Oscar Grant did not deserve to die any more than King Lear...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.