Three years before 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain outside of his father’s home in Sanford, Fla., Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man was headed home in Oakland, Calif. on New Year’s Day 2009, and met a similar fate.
Grant was fatally shot by a transit officer at a commuter train stop after being detained with several other passengers on the platform at the city’s Fruitvale train station.
“Get back, I’m gonna tase him,” Officer Johannes Mehserle yelled out, according to eyewitnesses. With Grant lying face down, Mehserle shot and killed the young man who worked as a butcher in Oakland’s Diamond District.
While a jury found George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, not guilty in Trayvon’s shooting, many argued that despite the guilty verdict in the Grant shooting, justice still escaped the black community.
Mehserle, a native of Germany, received an 11 month prison sentence after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the Grant case.
“I remember the first time [that I saw] the video of what happened to Oscar. I remember having an empty feeling in my stomach,” said director and screenwriter Ryan Coogler, whose new film, “Fruitvale Station,” details the Grant shooting.
“Oscar Grant made some mistakes in his life,” said Coogler, 27. “But, he also had great love in his life … great positives in his life as well. To be honest, he was a person, just like you, just like me.”
The movie opens nationwide on Friday, July 26 and showings are scheduled at Landmark’s E-Street Cinema in Northwest and select theaters in Alexandria and Fairfax, Va., and Bethesda, Md.
The film debuted in California just one day before the jury in the Zimmerman case rendered its controversial verdict. Critics say the film easily qualifies for Academy Award consideration.
Coogler said what’s addressed in the film extends well beyond the Zimmerman case.
“My prayer’s go out to Trayvon’s family and the families of all the young black males [who] are being killed on the streets, whether it’s from black-on-black crime or whether it’s a situation like Trayvon’s or an officer-involved shooting like with Oscar,” he said. “A lost life is a lost life.”
The movie, “Fruitvale Station” opens with actual footage from a camera phone, taken by a passenger on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train that had pulled into Fruitvale, a stop in downtown Oakland.
As the clock ticked past 2 a.m., the train is jammed with revelers who celebrated New Year’s in San Francisco.
The footage shows Grant on the platform leaning against a wall. Forcibly removed from the train, Grant could be seen talking on his cell phone and arguing with transit police who pinned him to the ground. One shot is fired, and a few hours later at a local hospital, Grant is pronounced dead.
Grant, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, a rising young actor best known for his standout performances in HBO’s “The Wire” as the young and naïve Wallace and NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” where he shined as the beleaguered quarterback, is convincing in his role as the ill-fated victim. Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for her role as Minny Jackson in the critically-acclaimed 2011 movie, “The Help,” portrays Grant’s stern but loving mother in the film. Spencer also signed on as one of the film’s producers.
(Photo: Michael B. Jordan portrays Oscar Grant in the movie, “Fruitvale Station.” Jordan is best known for his performances in HBO’s critically-acclaimed drama, “The Wire” and NBC’s “Friday Night Lights.” COURTESY PHOTO)