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A Death in Oakland

by Ross Douthat

A review of Fruitvale Station

Early on New Year’s Day, 2009, a fight broke out on the BART train running from San Francisco to Oakland. The transit cops arrived, pulled a group of men — young black men — from the train, and detained them on an East Bay platform. What happened next was captured by cell-phone videos taken by passengers on the train: After a lot of struggling and shouting, the officers pushed one of the young men down on his stomach to cuff him, there was some resistance and a scuffle, and then a cop pulled out his weapon and fired point-blank into the detainee’s back, mortally wounding him.

The gunshot victim was Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Oakland-area native, and his case became a cause célèbre in the Bay Area, inspiring marches, protests, riots, and then another round of the same after the shooting officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter a year and a half later. Now it has supplied the plot for a movie, Fruitvale Station, whose release has coincided with another racially charged, protest-inspiring tragedy, the Trayvon Martin shooting and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal.

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