“We’re just trying to get home.”
~”Oscar Grant” in the movie, “Fruitvale Station”
The trailers for the movie, “Fruitvale Station” were intriguing. The movie was presented as 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant before his final moments at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, California. As a citizen of the San Francisco Bay Area, I was very much aware of the story of Oscar Grant, his tragic end at the hands of Johannes Mehserle, the BART policeman who shot Grant in the back, claiming he had mistaken his gun for his taser. I followed the protests and the trial and the outcome. I even had the privilege of sharing in an interview with Mr. Grant’s uncle and mother on Issues After Dark with Dion.
Still, I wrestled with actually going to see the movie. Though I read with interest the Facebook posts from others who had gone to see the movie, I struggled with the idea of me buying a ticket to find a seat in some dark theater to watch what was sure to be a poignant and painful almost two hours of viewing. I noted the sometimes emotional, sometimes angry responses/reactions of the facebookers which made me all the more hesitant to climb on that roller coaster ride of emotions.
I eventually kicked trepidations to the curb and went to see the movie. I went in the middle of the day and sat, alongside my friend, in an almost empty movie theater, grateful for the cacophony of silence. I woke up with Oscar and his fiance and his daughter that early New Year’s eve morning and from that moment forward, I became a part of those almost too ordinary 24 hours in Oscar’s life, hours that would eventually bleed into a confrontation on a cold concrete platform at Fruitvale Station.
When the movie ended, I sat in tear-stained silence before I walked out of that theater broken and numbed by the possibility of what might have been and the hard-core reality of what really happened. I was grateful that the movie gave Oscar back his humanity, that the movie put flesh to the Movement. The movie gave us a glimpse into Oscar Grant’s life, his kindness as well as his quick temper, his humor that ignored his sister’s demand that he purchase a black birthday card for their mother as he purchased a card that depicted another culture, his teasing love for his daughter and his committed support of his fiance, the extended family that welcomed him with open arms over a bowl of gumbo, the friends that surrounded him with laughter as they looked forward to fireworks in the City. The encounters with the Caucasian woman in the store, the Caucasian husband and pregnant wife on the evening sidewalk revealed a kindness that few of their culture would ascribe to a young African-American man. I knew the end of the story, but I was still caught by surprise at the profiled brutality of the police on that cold concrete floor. I wanted to scream, “Stop; they did not start this. Why aren’t you looking for the other group?”
I carried that scream home with me that day and as I spoke about my reaction on the radio that evening, I said the following:
It has been 394 years since a people was ripped from their homeland and brought to foreign soil. It has been 394 years since individuals from different tribes in Africa were thrown together, labelled as chattel and assigned to plantations that needed the free labor. Stripped of their humanity, degraded daily, they had to learn the language no white man would teach to them, were denied the freedom of reading.. They lived on the scraps thrown out by the Master and learned to make it work for their palate and waited one year every year for “new” clothes.” The men could not protect their wives or their daughters from the rape of the white man who could come in at any time and take whomever he wanted without care or concern. Freed in 1865 and left to the whims of their former southern masters after the federal government abandoned oversight in 1877 (after twelve years of Reconstruction) black codes and Jim Crow marginalized the former slaves and their descendants, kept them in place with white hooded violence and share cropper poverty. The Civil Rights Movement may have opened the door to opportunity with a capital O but the evil that is racism is still persistent and pernicious in this so-called post-racial era. The 394 year old wound has not healed, it has been ignored. and its infected state has practically corrupted the psyche of a people. What is the word to the African-American today? “Get over it. That was then; this is now.”
Welcome to Fruitvale Station. We are still just trying to get home.