Movie parallels Martin case


Published: Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 9, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.

It's hard to watch "Fruitvale Station" without thinking of Trayvon Martin.

The new movie tells the story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was unarmed and restrained when he was shot in the back by a transit officer in Oakland, Calif., on New Year's Day 2009.

The real-life cellphone video footage of his death starts "Fruitvale Station." It's difficult to get through the movie at times knowing what is coming, especially given the parallels with recent events.

The verdict in George Zimmerman's trial for killing Martin inspired anger in a lot of people, but to me it was just depressing. That feeling was amplified by the flood of letters that The Sun received following Zimmerman's acquittal on July 13.

The paper received more than 30 letters on the verdict in the subsequent two weeks, most either defending Zimmerman or criticizing Martin. The latter were the most disheartening — it's just cruel to attack the reputation of a dead 17-year-old high school student.

A recurring theme in those letters was that Martin was a "thug" whose past problems didn't get the same scrutiny as Zimmerman's actions. Putting aside the racially charged aspect of the labeling of Martin, my answer to that argument is a simple question.

Did Zimmerman know anything about Martin's background when he confronted him in February 2012?

Anyone who denies the racial element of Zimmerman following Martin that night is fooling themselves. The same could be said for the events leading to Grant's death and even the local and obviously less tragic case of Gator football player Antonio Morrison being arrested last month for barking at a police dog.

The best thing about "Fruitvale Station" — aside from compelling performances by budding star Michael B. Jordan and others — is the simplicity of it. The movie is largely limited to the day before Grant's death.

It shows his warm interactions with his daughter, mother and others who loved him. But it also shows that he made mistakes, including past ones that landed him in prison.

But the Bay Area Rapid Transit Officer who shot him that night didn't know anything about Grant's past. The officer said he meant to use his Taser and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He served 11 months.

Some letter writers on the Martin verdict asked why his shooting received more attention than others, or why civil rights leaders aren't addressing more important issues. They miss the point.

A young person died senselessly, someone who was loved and should have had a lot of life to live. If you're going to ignore the racial elements, can't all of us at least show some sympathy about the fates of fellow human beings?

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