“Fruitvale Station” and Real Fear

The Nine Inch Nails concert in Albuquerque had just ended and I was being suffocated by a security guard. It was a sleeper hold, arms around my neck from behind. Panic was kicking in. I didn’t know it was security, I just knew I’d been grabbed and couldn’t breathe. I tried and failed to say something like “Stop.” My legs flailed and my arms couldn’t get an angle on whoever was behind me. I felt like a helpless, dying animal.

This incident was not really an “incident.” It was a blip. Fifteen seconds in a privileged life. A friend and I were shoving each other and wrestling on our way out of the venue, because we’re morons who’d been putting down beers for two hours while rocking out to NIN. I suspect security grabbed us because that’s protocol. They’re probably supposed to stop a scrap as quickly as possible.

But in the moment I did not think it was fair he’d choked me so hard. I said so, loudly. He had his mustache and his bright yellow shirt tucked in and his commando boots and his utility belt and he did not give a f*ck how I felt. My face was puffed red. His face wore supreme confidence, eyes dead-certain. “Shut up,” he said, “and go.”

You cannot mess with police. You cannot talk back to security guards. They have authority, and authority gives them righteous power.

Too bad the dynamic’s gotten deadly.

. . .

“Fruitvale Station” is a new movie about a real incident that happened in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009. A 22-year-old man named Oscar Grant got into a skirmish on the BART train and was pulled off by security guards. The guards were being filmed as they argued with Grant and his friends. One of the security guys pushed Oscar to the ground, and then shot him. He would later say he meant to use his taser. He was released after 11 months in prison. Oscar died.

Security guards have authority, which gives them righteous power.

The film begins with the real-life cell phone footage, then follows Oscar on that New Year’s Day up until the shooting. He took his young daughter to school. He went to his old job to try and get rehired. He dumped a bag of weed into the ocean. He pets a pit bull at a gas station, and has to scoop the dog out of the street when it’s hit by a car that speeds away. There is a flashback where his mother visits him in jail.

That visit winds up being important. So does his mom’s request that Oscar and his friends ride the BART that night instead of driving, since they would be drinking. She was just being a good mother, and her mothering contributed to a timeline leading to the killing of her son by an armed security guard.

“I’ve got a daughter.” They’re the first words Oscar utters after the bullet is fired into his back. When he dies in the hospital, this is where the movie takes us:


. . .

My wife is very pregnant right now. It’s our first.

I don’t understand whether or not we’re supposed to teach kids to stick up for themselves. I don’t think people should fight, but sometimes they do. It just is. We humans are a species of animal on this planet, right? Animals fight, for whatever reason.

Guns change everything though.

I don’t want my kid to fight, ever. Not because fighting is wrong. Fighting is not necessarily wrong. I don’t want my kid to fight because the other party may be armed.

There are lessons I’ll pass on. How to tie a shoelace. Cowboys suck. The difference between “your” and “you’re.” I think I’ll also have to say, at some point, “Please always choose to walk away.” I would rather raise a child who fights, literally, for what’s right. But now that’s too scary. “Don’t fight anyone,” I’ll say. Because guns are everywhere.

But it gets worse. “Don’t talk back to authority,” I’ll also say (hypocritically). “If a cop or a security guard is hassling you, for whatever reason, stay calm and let it happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the right. It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair. You’re not going to convince someone with a badge that he is in the wrong, even if that person is supposed to be protecting you.”

A running theme on this blog has been my own deep frustrations with corruption in New Mexico’s government. I think it matters, big-picture, when people like Gov. Susana Martinez misuse authority and power for their own selfish means. The system doesn’t work if parts of it are rotten. When government doesn’t manage itself properly, that negatively affects normal people. Anger spreads. Tensions are high out there.

Don’t talk back to a cop, ever, because a cop has authority, and that authority grants righteous power. That’s my advise. It’s too bad nothing, not even heartfelt advise from a parent, can keep someone safe anymore.


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