The Belated: Oscar Grant and Mahmoud Darwish

I added Fruitvale Station to My List on Netflix as soon as it was made available earlier this year. Today, as I sat in my apartment, making soup, reflecting on 2015, feeling some kind of strange newness in the room now that it’s 2016, I decided that today would be the day I watched the film about Oscar Grant’s murder.

I should say that I’ve actively avoided this film. I’ve also actively avoided reading a lot of news reports. When I was in college, I read the news obsessively — and this wasn’t the era of Facebook feed news links, this was tediously scouring the New York Times, Haaretz, Aljazeera, Reuters, even Colorlines and Racialicious for commentary. I needed to know what was happening in the world. Doing that, however, was exhausting. And ultimately disappointing. I was already someone prone to feeling depressed and triggered by learning about injustices on a mass or individual scale. Reading the news was not the healthiest thing for me. Shortly after, around my junior year, I did find something to replace my obsession with the news, and it was literature, poetry in specific. I remember the exact moment when I realized that the switch needed to be made.

I was sitting at the dining table in my now ex-boyfriend’s apartment (dirty carpet and the looming stench of weed and all) and I was reading Mahmoud Darwish’s The “Red Indian’s” Penultimate Speech to the White Man (tr. Fady Joudah). This poem allowed time to fold over onto itself. This poem was of the past and the ongoing present. Darwish, a Palestinian witnessing the ongoing colonization of his homeland, penned this poem in the narrative voice of an indigenous Native American addressing the colonizer of his homeland, also an ongoing process.


While reading the news gave me awareness and allowed me to participate in conversations with many, it didn’t emit any beauty or hope, and it made me even more depressed. So I stopped reading the news. Instead, I read novels, poetry, and essays, engaging with things written years if not decades prior to my moment of reading. (Something like Rattle’s Poets Respond project is a happy medium.) Despite the fact that I was reading “aged” work (whatever that is), it still informed my perspective on the current but also allowed me to breathe, knowing that there’s precedent and that something beautiful was created even amidst the despair. This doesn’t come from a belief that the world doesn’t change — I think that, with regards to what is reported in the news, the change is slow, like that of a body (scaled to space-time or collective human consciousness, of course).

The span of my breakup with the news also included the rapid growth of ISIS and the surge in media coverage of police murders of innocent Black men and women, starting with the story of Oscar Grant. I knew the general idea of his story but I hovered right above the details, a willful ignorance resulting from privilege that I am indeed aware of. The injustice was obvious to me and I knew on which side I stood — I just did not have the heart or mindspace to get into the details. I especially did not have the heart or mindspace to share my comments on social media. When things are rapidly changing, when loss is happening at an unprecedented speed, something within us must give. And some things done in the name of self-care are forgivable.

Sidenote: A friend of mine says I’m too self deprecating when I write personal posts. For me, writing is often a reframing of experiences. Exposing the true internal processes, as self-deprecating as they may be, is important for me. If my reader doesn’t like the honesty, they should find something else to read.

One of the details that I did not know about the Oscar Grant murder was that he was shot on January 1st, exactly seven years ago. By accident, I watched his story on the anniversary of his murder. And the details were, as expected, heartbreaking, and I found myself sobbing when Michael B. Jordan lay on the ground, mouth full of blood, and between short breaths saying “You shot me”, “I have a daughter”.

It’s been said plenty of times before that this film should be watched and the stories of individuals like Oscar Grant should never happen in the first place, but when they do happen, the stories should be shared. Widely.

I still like the image of time folding over onto itself but it is not to perpetuate the universal statement of succumbing (the one that says “history repeats itself”) — rather, history rhymes. The story of the cop shooting the unarmed black man or woman has spun itself into an idyllic nightmare, with names and stories blurred into one irresolvable whoosh of news reports and endless court proceedings, so far from the lives of the individuals themselves. To believe that history is merely repeating itself in the case of police murders of Black citizens is an example of lazy thought. The increase in media portrayal and Black Lives Matter movement, among other factors, have made a difference. If anything else, there is now a moment of reflection in some cops’ minds that was not there before. For some Detroit cops I’ve spoken with, this might push them to justify their actions and their potentially murderous prejudices — they’ve become more defensive. But that feeling of discomfort can be a seed of the antithesis to police power. (Or not.)

While I do not regret abstaining from the news, I do regret not looking deeper into the lives of the individuals affected and summoning my power to write and share to honor those lives. I’m grateful that I watched the documentary today and feel something slightly cosmic in the aligning of the dates.

This doesn’t mean I’m at all resolving to go back to reading the news regularly. What I’d much rather do is more closely consider the details.

There are dead and settlements, dead and bulldozers, dead                             and hospitals, dead and radar screens that capture the dead                           who die more than once in life, screens that capture the dead                         who live after death, and the dead who breed the beast of civilization as                                                                                                                                          death,  and the dead who die to carry the earth after the relics…                                                                                                                           – Mahmoud Darwish

* As I was writing this, I came across this excellent found poem about Oscar Grant, written by Saeed Jones (feat. hyperlinks).




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