My thoughts on the film Fruitvale Station and the Oscar Grant shooting

So back when it was still in the theaters, I saw the movie Fruitvale Station. For those that still aren’t aware of the movie and what it’s about, it’s an attempt to document the final living days of Oscar Grant, who died after being shot by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police in the early morning hours of 2009 January 1.

Without spoiling the plot too much, the movie makes no bones about Oscar’s checkered past and criminal history. But at the same time, Oscar is portrayed as someone who was just about to get his life back together when it was tragically ended. During a period in which my mom and I would go to the theater every weekend (sometimes twice in the same weekend), I had picked this one almost out of mere curiosity, going by the Wikipedia article linked above accessed from my mom’s Android phone (if you want to get technical, I believe this version of the article was either the exact version I was looking at or very close to it). I didn’t write down nor do I remember what our other choices were, but I don’t regret this choice one bit.

I know there are some who will happily dismiss this movie, and even walk out or eject the DVD the moment they see the first scene with Oscar in prison. And they will have no idea what they missed. Suffice it to say that in my particular case, I saw quite a bit of myself in the portrayal of Oscar on the screen. And a lot of people should; for a majority of people, it’s not getting arrested for drug dealing that brings the dark spot in their lives, but something else like losing a job or losing a bunch of friends all at once.

Part of the purpose of our corrections system is to rehabilitate. If we as a society do not allow those sentenced to prison to prepare for their eventual release and become productive members of society, we may as well just put revolving doors on the front of the prisons because the prisoners will wind up going back to crime yet again. The film shows Oscar’s efforts to become a law-abiding and productive member of society during the final days of his life. We will never know if he could have been successful.

What I find particularly unjust is that the officer who shot Oscar, Johannes Mehserle, would serve less than a year after being sentenced to a mere two years. Even though he has a conviction on his record which will keep him from securing employment in law enforcement, two years is way too lenient, before factoring in the sentence reductions that allowed his release in less than a year. The maximum for involuntary manslaughter in this case was four years (one article said six years), but that charge gives Mr. Mehserle the benefit of the doubt and says this was an accident.

Based on what I have seen so far, I don’t think this was an accident. It would take a lot to convince me that this was voluntary manslaughter, and not second-degree murder. I recognize that the jury saw it differently, but at the same time I must say in as many words I think the jury got it wrong.

Thankfully, the civil courts are seeing things differently and awarding the survivors sums in excess of $1 million (Oscar’s daughter got $1.5 million and his mother $1.3 million; the case brought by his father is still pending).

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