Like countless others this week all over America, I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the senseless, certainly preventable, and heartbreaking murder of Trayvon Martin, an innocent young man, who because of his death was unable to defend himself in front of the jury who found the man who was armed with a gun and pulled the trigger that killed him, innocent of any murder charges. George Zimmerman got his day in court, yet in the opinion of this writer, Trayvon Martin had his civil rights, his reputation, and his life stolen from him simply because of his race.
Like Zimmerman, Trayvon stood his ground when he was confronted by a stranger and attempted to defend his own life. Unlike Zimmerman who was armed with a gun and who stalked him, Trayvon was unarmed. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident but is a common occurrence in the streets of our cities and in public places like Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California, a Bay Area Rapid Transit Station (BART).
“Fruitvale Station” is an award-winning independent film which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film. It was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, produced among others by Academy Award-Winning actor Forrest Whitaker, and stars Michael B. Jordon, an upcoming, critically-acclaimed new acting talent, as Oscar Grant III, an unarmed 22-year-old young man, shot in the back and killed by a police officer just after 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day in 2009 under questionable but deadly circumstances. The film opened last week in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, and opens July 19 in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington, with wider release to follow. The film chronicles the final 24 hours of Oscar’s life. WARNING: Film spoilers ahead.
Michal B. Jordon, during a Q & A session following a showing of the film Saturday night after the announcement of the George Zimmerman acquittal, responded to moderators and the audience by saying, “My heart hurts so bad right now. I wasn’t going to come after I found out about George Zimmerman getting acquitted. It broke me up. That’s why I think this film means so much, because it keeps happening again and again. (We must) learn how to treat each other better and stop judging one another just because we’re different. It’s not just a black and white thing, it’s a people thing. It’s the only way that things are going to take the necessary steps to move in the right direction so things can get better because I don’t think it’s ever gonna stop, but something’s gotta f*****g change.”
Like Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin, Jordon shared his personal experiences growing up a young black man, which helped prepare him for this role. Jordan said that having been profiled as a black male from Newark helped in playing the role of Grant.
“I have been pulled over, illegally searched, handcuffed, sat on the curb numerous times. Driving down the street here in LA I sometimes pull over when I see cop. Honestly, sometimes those experiences help in playing a role like this. That’s what I think acting is. What’s relatable you pull from yourself and try to apply to character where it fits.”
The film, as written by director Ryan Coogler, is an accurate depiction of a young man’s final hours. Coogler had access to public records pertaining to the case, cell phone videos by witnesses and bystanders from the day of the killing, and he conducted interviews with family members. Coogler, an Oakland native, was quoted that during the trial, “Oscar was either cast as a saint who had never done anything wrong in his life, or he was painted as a monster who got what he deserved that night.” Coogler hopes the film will restore Grant’s “humanity.”
Like Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant was a young black man whose life was tragically cut short. On the last day of his life, Trayvon was walking back to the Sanford, Florida condo with an iced tea and bag of Skittles. Oscar during the final 24 hours of his life was preparing for his mother’s birthday celebration, buying crabs for her gumbo dinner. When he spoke to his mother earlier that day she suggested that he take the train (BART) into San Francisco for the party rather than drive, that he would be safer. Like Trayvon, Oscar did not know this was his last day on earth.
What exactly happened on the platform at the Fruitvale Station BART moments before Grant was shot in the back has been disputed by people present that early morning. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the BART officers on the scene failed to collect eyewitness interviews, sending the train ahead to its next destination after Grant was shot, and “made little effort,” to follow up with passengers afterwards. “None of the seven officers at Fruitvale radioed that an officer-involved shooting had taken place,” the Chronicle notes. “Supervisors sent to the Fruitvale Station initially were in the dark, while officers at stations down the line did not know to expect a train full of witnesses.”
Andrew O’Hehir in his Salon.com review from Thursday, July 11th writes, “Exactly how and why that (Grant’s murder) happened remains a matter of “Rashomon”-like dispute, which has not been cleared up by contradictory eyewitness testimony and a proliferation of cellphone videos shot by other people in the station. What we know for sure is that a young black man died, for no good or obvious reason, at the hands of a white cop, right in the middle of one of the most purportedly progressive and multicultural communities in the nation, and that the episode can’t be disconnected from the long, painful and tragic history of race in America.”
Last stop, Fruitvale Station.