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BSU Opens Dialogue with Film

By James Hoyle
On February 24, 2016

On Wednesday, February 17, Concord University’s Black Student Union showed the film “Fruitvale Station.” Pizza and soda was also served, and an open forum where everyone could discuss what they thought of the film followed the showing. “Fruitvale Station” tells the story of the last 12 hours of the life of Oscar Grant, an African American living in Oakland, California, whose death at the hands of police officers was recorded and seen by the general populace. Grant was 22 years old when he died on New Year’s Day, 2009. On the way back from a New Year’s Party, Grant and a few of his friends were involved in an altercation on a subway. Though they were not the ones that threw the first punch, police officers nonetheless detained Grant and his friends at Fruitvale Station. Grant was shot when police officer Johannes Mehserle mistook Grant pleading his innocence for resisting arrest. He was wrestled to the ground when Officer Mehserle shouted, “Stand back, I’m going to tase him.” Mehserle mistook his gun for his taser and shot Grant in the back. He was taken to the hospital, where he died from internal bleeding the next morning. 

Officer Mehserle was arrested and was charged with involuntary manslaughter along with charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. On July 8, 2010, he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and found not guilty of the other two charges. He was sentenced to two years in prison and was released on parole after serving just 11 months in jail. A civil liberties investigation was opened up against Officer Mehserle on July 9, 2010 by the U.S Department of Justice, as Mehserle can be charged with the same crime again since the federal government can charge someone independently under the exception of double jeopardy, a defense where someone cannot be tried for the same crime twice if found not guilty. As of 2016, no move has been made to do so. Following the court’s decision, looting and riots occurred throughout Oakland, demanding justice. Nearly 80 people were arrested during those riots. 

Grant’s death was significant in that it was not only one of the first instances of police brutality uploaded and seen in the age of the internet, it was also a sign of things to come. The modern day “Black Lives Matter” movement began because of killings like that of Oscar Grant, and though his death came just a few years shy of the real start of that movement, it nonetheless inspired many to action. 

The film’s depiction of the events tries to be as emotionally effective as possible while at the same time tries to portray its characters as humanly as possible. We see Oscar go through his struggles of trying to raise a daughter whose mother he is not married to, trying to make ends meet when he can’t find his way to gainful employment, and his difficulties coping with having a criminal record. The film shows Grant in a positive light overall. However, it also shows him to be confused, quick to anger when backed into a corner, and it shows him lying to everyone, most of all to himself. At the same time, while the police in the film are depicted as tyrannical and quick to anger as well, they also show genuine horror, fear, and disgust for what they do in the film. Officer Mehserle is even shown trying to help Grant after he shot him. The film’s purpose is to not be propaganda for either side of the argument. Rather, it is an honest attempt to tell a story that needs to be told. 

To that end, during the film discussion, the leaders of the Black Student Union tried to explain that just because someone has a criminal record, it does not necessarily make them awful or even evil people. There are always justifications for everything a person does. The counter-arguments are often drowned out in a haze of rhetoric and political correctness that obscures what is true. The discussion tried to be informative and to teach about the plight of black men and women in this country. During Black History Month, such a discussion could not be more apt. “Fruitvale Station” is available for streaming on Netflix. 

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