On January 29th, 2019, I attended a screening of the film, Fruitvale Station, and I listened to the panel discussion afterwards. The film starred Michael B. Jordan, as he was casted to portray the life of Oscar Grant, the man who died at the hands of the police in 2009. The panel, and in specific Oscar’s uncle, revealed that the movie was 98% accurate to the life of Oscar, and that he owes a lifetime supply of thanks to Ryan Coogler, the director of the film, as he provided the space and acknowledgement needed to voice Oscar’s life.
The intention of screening the film was to both allow for a different narrative to be voiced, and to demonstrate the commonly injusticial practices that not only took place in 2009, but that to the surprise of some, continue to take place today. During the film many tears were shed, but tears hold no significance unless action closely follow. Both Oscar’s aunt and uncle discussed after the film, that they had set up a foundation in the name of Oscar named ‘Love not Blood,’ as it stands to help people who’ve wrongly been accused of acts they did not commit. For the audience and myself, I believe we shared an opportunity to learn, discuss and grow from tragic events, that we too are important, that we too, matter.
However despite these panels, I know truthfully that I am limited in my experience. I myself am privileged to say I have never had a police officer confront me, an officer cuff me, nor a gun pointed at me. Grant on the other hand, did. He was slammed to the ground on New Year’s Day, and a trained officer took it upon himself to draw his weapon. In court, the officer testified that he intended to grab his taser and not his gun, but nonetheless he pulled the trigger on Grant. Grant was rushed to a nearby hospital where he later died – leaving behind his girlfriend and daughter.
The panel believes that if bystanders had not recorded the event and if people had not spoken up in protest, then Oscar’s murderer, Johannes Mehserle ( Ex-police officer) would have walked a free man, or worse, received paid leave. Johannes was confronted with a maximum sentence of 14 years, but due to his compliance with authority, he received 2 years ( the minimum sentence he could receive for manslaughter ), and even then was eligible for bail within 7 months. Time and time again, it is evident that police brutality seizes to terrorize people particularly in the United States. Yet, consequences are shown to differ largely based on the color of one’s skin.
Beyond all the chaos, I am however, conflicted. I’m conflicted because I believe in restorative justice – a means to hold the perpetrator accountable, all the while creating a bridge of trust back within the community harmed. In this case, Mehserle is the perpetrator, and out of ‘fear,’ he took the life of a Black man in Oakland. This scenario questions my idea of legitimizing restorative justice because how I am to expect the family of Oscar to simply forgive Mehserle for taking away their beloved relative. To what extent can restorative justice truly satisfy both parties? How can I, as viewer question the actions of those that I was not placed in? Can there ever truly be a reasonable consequence for the actions of murderer?