JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

You must see ‘Fruitvale Station’

Updated: 2013-07-19T22:17:08Z

By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

The Kansas City Star

My stomach drops while I watch the opening minutes of “Fruitvale Station.”

Before the actors take over to portray these horrible events, their film begins with the grainy cellphone footage showing the actual killing of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. The unarmed black man was shot in the back and killed on New Year’s Day 2009 in an Oakland train station.

It’s not a character. It’s not scripted. It’s real. And it’s hard to watch, especially now, in the wake of George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict in the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Grant was lying face down when his life was taken by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer.

I didn’t want to watch this movie. It was going to take me through the final day of Oscar Grant’s life and show me more than viral footage of his slaying. I would see more than a dead body and old pictures. It was going to introduce me to Oscar Grant, the person. And that is why I watched it. Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Darius Simmons and Jordan Davis — they are all dead because someone with a gun saw them as monsters instead of people.

Even President Barack Obama admits that 35 years ago, he could have been Trayvon Martin.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away,” he said during an impromptu briefing at the White House on Friday. “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”

That’s the thing. Even the president knows what it’s like to be profiled. Whether you are a Barack Obama or an Oscar Grant, there are people who view you as a societal hazard.

And let me say, Oscar Grant wasn’t on the road to political greatness. As the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan, shows so well, Oscar Grant had a temper. He served jail time for dealing drugs. He made a lot of mistakes, like so many of us do. But he was not evil. He was a loving father, a boyfriend and a son. He was trying to change his life.

And that’s why you should push aside any reluctance about seeing “Fruitvale Station,” which opens in a few Kansas City theaters next Friday. It’s that movie you must see this year. It’s a movie that helps break down the stereotypes. It’s a movie that helps us understand that not everything is cut-and-dried. You can wear a hoodie, make a mistake and still have the right to live.

This past week, I’ve heard people attempt to justify the death of Trayvon Martin.

“If you didn’t dress like a thug, you wouldn’t have to worry,” someone said.

“Trayvon was suspended from school. He wasn’t innocent,” said another.

They hurl Justice Department stats (93 percent of black victims were killed by blacks), without mentioning that 84 percent of white victims were killed by whites. How does any of that information make what’s happening in our country, especially with young black men, any less important? As if those lives don’t matter. We need to care about the black victims, the white victims — all victims.

In his speech, Obama asked a simple question in regard to African-American boys: “Is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”

Yes. And it starts by seeing them as human.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.

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