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'Fruitvale Station' film reminds of injustice, need for reform

By Sandip Roy
On July 29, 2013

  • Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by transit police at the Fruitvale station in California in 2009. The Weinstein Company

SAN FRANCISCO - The woman in the pink stretch pants walked out of theatre 15 holding her tray of movie theatre goodies - an almost empty tub of popcorn, a large cup of soda. Her shoulders were shaking as she walked. She was weeping.

 "He was just trying to go home," she told the man with her. "He was just trying to go home."
 She was repeating a line from the film we had just seen. "Fruitvale Station" was based on one day, the last day, in the short life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III. It was the early hours of New Year's Day 2009. Grant was coming home in the subway to Oakland from having gone to San Francisco to watch the fireworks with his friends. His mother had told him to take the subway because she was worried about drunk driving. Grant never made it home. An altercation with the subway police suddenly turned fatal. A police officer fired a shot at Grant while he was lying on the ground.
 As he lay bleeding on the platform, he pleaded, "We're just trying to get home."
 They were all trying to get home - Oscar Grant in Oakland, Trayvon Martin in Florida, or the woman who was raped in a bus in New Delhi and christened Nirbhaya or the fearless one by the media, or the woman gang raped on her way back from college in Kamdhuni near Kolkata. They didn't want to spark off great protests. They didn't want to become symbols, placards or posters. They didn't want docudramas made about their lives.
 One kind of iconic hero - like the young man who stood before the tanks of Tiananmen Square or the monk who set himself on fire in Vietnam - are men and women who deliberately embrace a certain heroism. But the Grants and Nirbhayas are a different breed of heroes - the accidental kind, ordinary people just trying to get home.
 The release of "Fruitvale Station" coincided with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man accused of killing Martin. The 17-year-old was gunned down in a gate community in Florida, where he was staying with his father's fiancée. Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch coordinator thought Martin looked suspicious in his hoodie, like he was up to no good. By the time the police arrived, Martin had been fatally shot in the chest.
Zimmerman pleaded self-defense. On July 13, a jury found him not guilty of second degree murder or even manslaughter.
Now Martin, too, is a poster, a hashtag (#HoodiesUp), a chant on the street.
"Trayvon Martin did not have to die, We all know the reason why, the whole system is guilty," chanted hundreds of marchers as they walked through downtown San Francisco carrying placards with Martin's name, beating drums, shouting slogans. "We are all Trayvon Martin now," read the banners.
But we are not, really. Just as we are not all Oscar Grants.Or Nirbhayas. These were individuals, not ideas, not symbols. These were people with flawed, ordinary lives which ended in a tragic moment of injustice. It's the imperfections of these lives that make the deaths so individually poignant.
In "Fruitvale Station," we see Grant struggling with his relationship. He had lost his job because he was habitually late, he had a stash of drugs and a bit of a temper. But on that last day, he bought crabs for his mother's birthday, flirted with a young White woman at a supermarket and played with his little daughter. As the credits roll you realize this man will never again give his daughter a piggy back ride, will never fight and make up with his girlfriend, will never put gas in his car.
"It's important to remember the work of justice is a communal effort," said Rev. Theon Johnson III from the United Methodist ministry of Glide Church. "We have to stand up for the sake of all the Trayvon Martins. But the 'communal effort' doesn't mean we are all Trayvon Martin now. It just means that in Trayvon Martin's short tragic life we might see a shadowy reflection of our own."


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