We know how this story ends. 22-year-old Oscar Julian Grant III laid face-down on the “Fruitvale Station” subway platform, wondering why the hostile officers were being so forceful with him. He wanted to explain himself and avoid jail time…again. All Oscar saw was yet another strike going against him; another obstacle keeping him from his ultimate goal of providing for his family in an honest way. He wanted out of the streets.
“Why’d you shoot me? I have a daughter…” Michael B. Jordan, who played Oscar Grant, gasped. Blood stained his face a deep crimson as he lie there, thinking about his daughter…without him. He repeated, “I have a daughter,” until he couldn’t speak anymore. My heart broke in places I didn’t know I had. I cried, no…scratch that, I blubbered like a baby for the hugs his mother, Wanda Johnson would never get from him again. I cried for his attempt at a better life being cut short before the ink dried on his plan. I cried for his beautiful daughter, growing up without his love.
The outpouring of emotion from this film was something I rarely experience. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, “Fruitvale Station” avoided cliches and remained true to the pulse of Oscar’s story. Coogler created a character in Oscar that you wanted to root for, no matter how questionable his choices were. But I think it’s how Oscar was killed that hurts me the most. Defenseless. Boot and knee to neck. Almost like he received a deadly sucker punch. It could have been avoided.
I thought about my brother, Damien–who’d also lost his life to gun violence. He was initially missing and as time went by, details emerged about his death. He was unsuspecting when the barrel of the gun was placed at the base of his skull. He had no time to protest before the trigger was pulled and his life exploded like a supernova.
Just like Oscar Grant, Damien wanted to make a better life for his kid. He’d been working longer hours at his factory job so that he could move out of our mom’s house. While looking through the personal items he left behind, searching for some type of hint as to why this happened, my mom found a wad of the cash he’d been saving. He never got a chance to prove he could be a better man. Oscar’s short life of tragedy and attempted triumph mirrored my brother’s and so many other young men of color and it’s not fair.
That’s all I could think when I saw the cell phone video footage of Oscar’s death and those loaded feelings came rushing back in as I watched it happen in full feature film. The pop of the policeman’s gun sparked shock in Oscar’s eyes. There was innocence glittering there, as if he couldn’t believe the bullet was going through his back. No one could believe it. Handcuffed and on his stomach, Oscar had no defense and no way of attacking the officers. Why did the officer shoot? Oh. He thought it was his taser.
Between the screams, angry subway passengers with phones in hand, recording the whole disgusting slaughter, the scene was thick with noise, but still eerie. A man was murdered by police in plain view. This is a sick and sad truth many minority mothers have to face, therefore opening up a dialogue about safety, response to police and the relationship the authorities have with men or race. There’s an awareness in communities of color that doesn’t exist in White communities. The authorities are in their neighborhoods to protect and serve and they’re in ours to profile and eliminate.
Octavia Spencer played Oscar’s mom and carried the strain of a mother’s love with ease. The weight of her decision, urging Oscar to ride the train so that he could celebrate New Year’s Eve with his friends and have some drinks, must weigh Wanda Johnson down like an anvil everyday. “I just want to hug him,” Oscar’s mother cried onto the glass that separated her from her cold son. His death was already ruled a homicide and his corpse served as evidence. That choice Wanda made, catering to his safety, cost Oscar his life. But his life has since become a reminder of the strides that need to be made towards police and minority men.
There is no spoiler alert here. Only this–the officer who fatally shot Oscar committed nothing short of murder and didn’t even serve a year in prison. Lopsided law enforcement is real. There’s not many cases that get a national spotlight like Oscar Grant, Rodney King or Amadou Diallo, but it’s only a small glimpse at the tension between men of color and law enforcement.
On paper, Oscar was a statistic. He was a young Black man with a criminal record, no job–unless you count selling marijuana to the highest bidder–and no real hope for the future, other than his own determination to change his statistic. All the fight in the world couldn’t stop Oscar from perishing early that new year’s morning after celebrating his mother’s birthday and deciding he was changing his life for the better.
All it takes is that first step and Oscar boldly made it in the film. He was ready to give up his life of comfort sponsored by the drug game. But like so many unsuspecting minority men, Oscar tripped and fell face first on to the cold concrete. His fate is hopefully enraging a generation to act against the crime of the law killing the men in our communities without guilt.
“Fruitvale Station” will be out in theaters on July 26 and I promise you, this is a must-see.
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