‘Fruitvale Station’, Zimmerman verdict stir emotions

Posted 7:18am on Saturday, Jul. 20, 2013

Fruitvale Station opened last weekend to limited audiences on the West Coast and in New York, but the debut was anything but quiet.

I watched it at the ArcLight Hollywood, and minutes after it ended — as moviegoers turned their cellphones on — Twitter exploded with the news that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The connection was lost on no one.

Fruitvale Station is the rail stop on the Bay Area Rapid Transit line in Oakland where Oscar Grant was shot in 2009 by a BART police officer after an altercation on the train, not long after a New Year’s Eve celebration. He died a few hours later in an Oakland hospital.

The powerful and incredibly sad movie walks its audience through the last day of Grant’s life, showing both his good and his questionable sides.

Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, is a former convict and low-level drug dealer with a short temper, an unemployed butcher who cheats on his girlfriend. But even on his journey toward self-destruction, Grant, 22, manages to be a wonderful and loving father to his daughter, Tatiana, a thoughtful son to his mother and a surprisingly caring friend to strangers.

It’s as if he jumps from one treadmill to another, each pointed in a different direction.

The horrific, senseless shooting of Grant — it was captured on many digital and cellphone cameras — spurred violent protests in Oakland, and a second wave came when the shooter, BART policeman Johannes Mehserle, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter instead of second-degree murder.

Grant was a young man who was far from perfect — much like Martin — but a man who certainly did not deserve to have his life cut short that night.

The movie stirred thoughts of police brutality and racial injustice, and it was not surprising that after the Zimmerman verdict, some protests in Oakland turned violent.

When I was returning home, I also thought about Fort Worth, where in recent years we have seen instances of questionable deaths involving police and minorities — minus the protests marked with violence.

Perhaps the most notable case occurred in April 2009, three months after Grant was killed in Oakland, when Fort Worth officer Stephanie Phillips shocked and killed Michael Jacobs, 18, with a Taser.

Jacobs, an African-American with a history of mental illness, was causing a disturbance at his home, and his family called police to help restrain him. Phillips shocked Jacobs twice, and on the second deployment she held the trigger down for 49 seconds — 44 longer than policy dictates.

Yes, Jacobs was troubled, but he did not deserve to be killed.

There was some push-back from the African-American community after Jacobs’ death, but nothing major. A small march — 50 people or so — was held in downtown Fort Worth a few months later, with protesters calling for police to stop using Tasers and for Phillips to be punished.

A Tarrant County grand jury eventually declined to indict Phillips, and, without admitting guilt, the city settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with Jacobs’ family for $2 million, closing the case quietly — the “Fort Worth way.”

While the absence of violent protests is a good thing, to forget Jacobs’ death is not.

Fruitvale Station is scheduled to open Friday at the Angelika in Dallas and soon after at other theaters in the Metroplex.

See it. You won’t leave happy, but you won’t forget.

Lee Williams is deputy managing editor for continuous news at the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7840 Twitter: @Leewatson

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