Earlier this week, I had the chance to see an advanced screening of the film Fruitvale Station, a dramatic telling of the real-life events that led to the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by police officers shortly after the San Francisco Bay area rang in the New Year in 2009. Powerful and devastating, a quick scan of the theater lobby after the movie finished clearly demonstrated the effect it had on viewers. It was a sea of puffy eyes and balled up tissues.
Director Ryan Coogler, himself a 26-year-old from the East Bay area, does a masterful job of showing you that while not perfect (the film notes that Grant spent time in prison, for instance), he was a man looking optimistically to the future whose life was senselessly cut short. You’d have to be heartless to walk away from the movie without having six different kinds of feelings, all of them leading to at least one shed tear.
So enough gushing about the film… Well one more: See it! It’s great! And your whole summer movie-going itinerary can’t be popcorn movies. Really, pass on The Lone Ranger, which looks terrible, and watch this instead. I got the idea from a screening buddy to take a look and see how Bay Area police and other groups have responded to the incident in the years since.
Fruitvale is in Oakland, CA. The area has seen a jump in crime recently, but the police department there has given thought to a restructuring for years, even before the Grant shooting. Just yesterday, the Oakland Police Department announced that it completed an overhaul of its command structure, which is meant to allow for not only better policing, but improved community engagement.
In 2011, BART police, which was responsible for the shooting, settled a $50 million lawsuit with the Grant family, with Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson receiving $1.3 million. His daughter had received $1.5 million the year before. Among the changes that BART police force promised at the time were hiring a new police chief and enhanced training for officers.
Grant got into a fight on the BART public transportation system, which led to the police action at Fruitvale station. A quick check of the news about the BART system shows incredible mismanagement, with a former general manager, Dorothy Duggar, collecting a $333,000 salary in 2012 and racking up vacation time even though she hasn’t stepped foot in the office since 2011. (Best job ever?) Duggar accumulated tons of time off when she was actively employed and has been collecting on that. She actually made more than the person who replaced her. But money is an issue for the agency, so this is a black eye on its management.
And since Grant’s death, the Oscar Grant Foundation has been established to speak out against police brutality and other injustice. The film has gotten lots of attention at the Sundance (it won the Grand Jury Prize and an Audience Award) and Cannes Film Festivals, so that should drive attention to the organization.
There’s also a separate campaign, I Am, that invites everyone to tweet or Instagram a moment of social injustice to the hashtag #IAmFruitvaleStation.
We’ve got the trailer below, ICYMI. It opens in theaters July 12.