Fruitvale Station, a film by newbie director and writer Ryan Coogler, will not mark the first time America has watched Oscar Grant III die. In 2009, just weeks before President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration, a shaky camera phone video of the 22-year-old’s death captured national attention. The footage showed Grant sitting on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) platform with several other men of color heading home from New Year’s Eve festivities. Surrounded by BART officers, the group remained seated until Grant took out his cell phone and stood up. At least one of the officers shouted at the young man before pushing him to the concrete floor. In the background, passersby can be heard shouting, “that’s unnecessary,” and reminders of the cops’ duty “to protect and serve.” Then, there is the unmistakable sound of a single shot, followed by howls of horror and gasps of disbelief.
Grant’s life prematurely ended that night. Despite cameras catching a defenseless man dying at the hand of BART officer Johannes Mehserle, Grant’s killer only received an involuntary manslaughter conviction and a two-year sentence. But the unjust punishment isn’t the only thing that makes this story so tragic. Just 24 hours earlier, Grant a young father who had run-ins with the law in the past, had decided to turn his life around, focusing on his family and career. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to do that. It is that heart-wrenching irony that ultimately led Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer to sign on to star in the indie film, Fruitvale Station.
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