By Anthony Beron
“I don’t trust the police and we don’t need them on our streets,” said McClymonds High School senior Garland Rabon after watching the screening of Fruitvale Station.
His mood — distrust, disappointment, anger — also reflected his reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, 17, a young black man in a hoodie just “walking while Black” like so many students at McClymonds.
The movie also hit home because much of it takes place along several BART stations, just a few miles from school, where so many students of color hop on a train across the Bay Area.
Fruitvale Station, a dramatic film focused on Oscar Grant’s last days before his 2009 shooting death, premiered last week, coinciding with the Zimmerman verdict: it struck the audience so hard that men and women alike cried in the Grand Lake Theater’s lobby.
At the screening I attended, you could hear violent shouting and people weeping in the audience, followed by sudden laughter at the tender scene in which Grant kisses his daughter goodbye as she trots off to daycare, then another wave of extreme disgust when Grant was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital.
Between the beat of the music, real-life video recorded at the scene, and Michael Jordan’s fine performance, showing the vulnerability, warmth and brashness of Oscar Grant, the film got the message through clearly: his death was a consequence not of his own flaws, but of racial profiling.
It could have been any African-American young man. With that awareness, “Am I Next?” became the slogan that replaced “We Are All Trayvon.”
The audience remained focused even as the film alternated between urging irony and beating vacillation.
Many felt it accurately portrayed Oscar Grant, African-American youth, American racism, and especially police brutality in Oakland, as there was a strong emphasis on the crudeness of BART police in Fruitvale Station during the shooting of Oscar Grant.
“People will be more aware of it [racism],” said Jeremy Namkung, a McClymonds High School PE teacher. He continued, “Small changes will be made in a long period of time.”
Johannes Mehserle, Oscar Grant’s killer, appeared sinewy and lorded over the entire Fruitvale BART station, where he repeatedly Jiu Jitsu-flipped bystanders and friends of Oscar Grant who were merely in his way, emulating the gestures of an almost a spazzed-out, reckless Robocop vigilante.
That power felt palpable to the audience.
“[I have] mixed feelings on cops: they are necessary but they have too much power and abuse it,” said Namkung, who also said he feels safe on BART.
In the movie, Mehserle was one of several first-responders who were alerted of a fight on a BART train.
Grant and several of his companions were a part of the scuffle between him and an unarmed ex-con he knew from prison. By this point , the film began focusing on fading the crispness of the audio and screen resolution in and out, which represented the confusion and fright felt by Grant, who was attempting to flee from all the commotion and simply wanted to enjoy time with his friends and family.
They were later removed from their train car, where they were called racial slurs and handcuffed by BART personnel. Grant, who tried to calm his friends, was kicked down and accidently shot by Mehserle on BART grounds. His train was directed to continue towards Pittsburg, without having any witnesses taken off.
In the theater lobby, the Zimmerman verdict strained the atmosphere as people in queue reacted to it with rage and tears. “I can’t believe this,” one woman sobbed. The reaction — emotional, angry but not surprised — echoed the same acrimony that people felt after the Mehserle verdict.
“I don’t feel safe at all in Oakland after hearing what had happened to Trayvon,” said Rabon.
In the days that followed, several businesses were vandalized, many bystanders were beaten and mugged during riots, and, of course, some looting did occur.
In West Oakland, students joined a bicycle ride for peace. At Lake Merritt, they held a silent vigil for Trayvon Martin. And this weekend, they marched with signs that expressed everyone’s fear: “Am I Next?”
“It needs to be peace,” replied Christopher Lockett, a Mack sophomore. “People need to stop killing each other for gun play.”