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‘Fruitvale Station’ has parallels to Trayvon’s case

This publicity phoshows from left Michael James Michael B. Jordan TrestGeorge Thomas Wright KevDurAlejandrNolasco scene from film 'Fruitvale Station.' (AP

This publicity photo shows from left, Michael James, Michael B. Jordan, Trestin George, Thomas Wright, Kevin Durand and Alejandra Nolasco in a scene from the film, "Fruitvale Station." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Ron Koeberer)

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Updated: August 30, 2013 6:27AM



‘Fruitvale Station” is getting buzz. Little wonder, as this new movie tells the story of Oscar Grant, a striking parallel to the case of Trayvon Martin.

If you care about the traumas of America’s cities, you will remember Oscar Grant. Three years before Trayvon Martin lost his life in the wet Florida grass, Grant took his fatal turn in the national headlines.

In the early a.m. of New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant, 22, was shot to death by a transit police officer in the subway of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, Calif.

Grant, an African American, got into a fight on a subway car and ended up mortally wounded, shot in the back by a white officer who was trying to restrain him. The officer testified that he mistakenly grabbed his pistol instead of a stun gun. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in prison.

“Fruitvale Station” arrives during the furor of the national hand wringing over the George Zimmerman trial. At the beauty salon the other day, everyone was talking about it. “I cried through the whole thing,” a colleague told me.

Like Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant was a young black man. Like Martin, Grant was unarmed. Like Martin, Grant was shot in a violent, messy scuffle that didn’t need to happen. Both left behind devastated families, charged criminal trials, protests, and critical questions that will never be answered.

“Fruitvale” was directed by Ryan Coogler, a talented African-American filmmaker. Coogler is about the same age Grant would be, had he lived. I caught the movie Wednesday. My tears flowed, along with a healthy dollop of skepticism.

Coogler laced the film with eyewitness videos of the shooting and news coverage of the event. It’s not a documentary, but a well-acted, aptly produced re-creation of the last day of Grant’s life. It was a mostly ordinary day, but revealed a complex, imperfect young man.

Grant was a charming, loving father, from a stable and close-knit family, trying to turn his life around. But he was also, like too many young black American males, an ex-convict, small-time drug dealer, on a short fuse.

The film raises many complicated, nuanced issues: policing, racism, profiling, stereotyping, our flawed criminal-justice system, incarceration, gun control, personal responsibility and economic disparities.

Despite Grant’s flaws, Coogler bent over backward to portray him as a sympathetic, tragic character, a human being who did not deserve to lose his life on a cold, gritty subway platform.

That’s absolutely true.

Yet, as the Trayvon Martin case showed us, illuminating and humanizing the senseless death of one young man won’t change many minds. Americans don’t want to sift through complexities and nuances. We want to boil our urban problems down to simplistic stereotypes and inflamed rhetoric. We draw the lines, figuratively and literally, in black and white.

Beyond the Oscars and Trayvons, black folks fail to acknowledge or take responsibility for the crisis of our own making. In Chicago and many other urban enclaves, far more and more African-American men and boys are being slaughtered by their own.



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