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Jason Mitchell in Detroit, photo courtesy Annapurna
Jason Mitchell in Detroit, photo courtesy Annapurna

Carl: Righteous Anger Gone Amiss

The riots around Detroit were sparked by the raid of an illegal club, but the city’s neighborhoods were already filled with fuel. Detroit’s African-American communities had long felt harassed and oppressed by the city’s overwhelmingly white police force, and with the raid, community anger finally spills over into lawless rage: Blacks loot local businesses and burn down buildings. One politician pleads with citizens not to tear down their own communities, but to no avail. Once unleashed, rage is a hard thing to control.

The Algiers Motel is seemingly an oasis amidst the chaos, and several folks try to ride out the evening’s riots in a large house there. Larry—the velvet-voiced singer of the musical group The Dramatics—is one such sojourner. But he comes from a different background from many in the house; he doesn’t understand what it really feels like to be black in Detroit, some feel. Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) tries to educate him.

Carl roleplays a Detroit police officer and begins harassing an innocent “bystander” (one of Carl’s friends). He eventually pulls out a pistol and fires a shot at the guy, and the man falls down, apparently injured, much to the shock of Larry and some of the others assembled. Turns out, the gun was simply a starter pistol—one step up from a toy gun and completely harmless. No harm, no foul, right?

But that’s not precisely true in Detroit’s superheated atmosphere. Carl continues to rage over the city’s racial prejudices and the police’s overt discrimination, and he decides to teach the cops a “lesson”: He takes his starter pistol and fires a few shots out the window, scaring the tar out of the national guard stationed nearby.

Carl laughs. It’s obviously a joke. But for the on-edge law enforcement stationed outside, it’s no laughing matter.

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