Inspired by the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial where we’d hoped for justice for Trayvon Martin my two best girlfriends and I are endeavoring on a project. It is in its infancy but we hope to get it up and running soon. One component of the project will be writings on a variety of issues from our unique perspectives. Nevertheless, while we’re getting ourselves together the world continues to turn: The GZ verdict came in, another innocent Black man was shot at 15 times by the police as he parked his mom’s car in the driveway of the home he shares with her, the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington takes place in just a few short weeks, and Fruitvale Station was released.
There is so much I can say about the former but here in Astroland, which resides somewhere on the corner of pop culture and society, I will focus on the latter. While we live in three different states, my college girlfriends and I made a point to see Fruitvale Station on the same evening. Then prior to discussing were each to prepare a two paragraph reflection.
With their permission I am publishing all three reflections here in Astroland. (Forgive me for, once again, failing with respect to the length recommendation for blog posts.) While separated by hundreds of miles, we each came to very similar conclusions.
Reflection by JTA
Fruitvale Station, a film that chronicles the last day in the life of a young black man wrongfully killed by a CA police officer during a heated moment on New Year’s Eve 2009, has garnered critical acclaim as it shines a glaring light on social issues such as racial profiling, black male incarceration, and the difficulties of reintegration into society. The victim, Oscar, was a 22-year-old black male struggling to re-establish his life after a stint in the local penitentiary for petty crimes. Having paid the full consequences of poor choices in the past, Oscar elected not to repeat those mistakes by falling into the old seductive habit of drug-dealing. While it might provide a quick fix, Oscar was well-aware of the potential for devastating consequences. Oscar was no longer willing to take such risks as he considered his 4-year-old daughter and the mother of his child whom he fantasized about marrying. New Year’s Eve 2009 was to be one night of easy pleasure amongst friends where Oscar could celebrate new beginnings. As life would have it, it turned out to be his end.
Sadly, Oscar never realized his hopes, dreams, and fullest potential. Such seems to be the case for many men in the United States saddled with the same biographic background as Oscar: young, black, poor, male. As I watched Oscar lay dying and recalled the death of my young, black, poor, male brother at age 20, it was just another reminder that this country has stalled out on the advancement of race relations. The United States has moved no further than the Civil Rights movement in the past 49 years. That is a troubling commentary for one of the most powerful wealthy nations in the developed world. It begs the question whether our “leaders” even desire equity or if their lack of action is a testament to their true motivations? In the end, the officer who killed Oscar only served 11 months for involuntary manslaughter, having claimed that he mistook his gun for a taser. Thus, the police force is graduating and shielding officers who supposedly cannot differentiate between a gun and a taser. Forgive me if this assertion strikes me as embarrassingly unbelievable. In any case, the officer should have served more than 11 months for recklessly accepting a job where he would be in a position of public trust, handling lethal weapons, when he knew he was incapable of distinguishing between a gun and a taser in the heat of the moment. That was gross and wanton criminal negligence, in my humble opinion. But, then, who asked me? Fruitvale Station painted a poignant picture of a continuing failure in our society. For the sake of Oscar and many like him, we must do better.
Reflection by trj
Where to begin!? As you both know I’ve been watching Orange is the New Black (OITNB) and it is all I can talk (and dream about) about. In every conversation I share my first favorite scene (at this point I have hundreds) in the very first episode that is the moment I realized that this show would not only be good but that it would be great. In this scene the lead character, Piper, arrives at the federal prison with her fiancé and pulls up to the gate. At which point the guard takes one look at her and says (paraphrase) ‘there are no visits today.’ That one simple ten second scene, that in this case did not involve any people of color, told me that this show will convey a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of race and the social experience of racism in this country.
So why did I just waste a paragraph talking about a completely different show!? Because my *”favorite” scene in FS does exactly the same thing. It’s the scene outside the store when the women need to use the restroom. When Oscar and the no name white man are left outside and their conversation veers to occupation and the white dude shares that he too committed a crime in his earlier days then goes on to talk about his booming internet business. What is left unsaid is most compelling: that it is nearly impossible for a Black man to live the same experience and end up prosperous. That racism is so enmeshed in this world order that the world may never see these two men, with similar stories, as equal. That this seemingly less jarring form of racism has significant - and sometimes, as was the case with Oscar, fatal - life consequences.
(I need one more paragraph to wrap this up. Sorry.) FS was so real. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Oscar was so real. I know him. Sometimes a lamb other times a lion. Despised by some adored beyond belief by others. Like all of us: flawed. But no less deserving of a second (and third and fourth) chance and a life well lived. In my opinion what transpired on that platform that day was an execution. But even if it were a mistake, the undercurrent of racism and every idea that officer carried with him about who Black men are in this society allowed that officer to imagine his gun - although a different color than his taser, holstered on the opposite side of his taser, and significantly lighter than his taser - to be his taser.
That’s my $.02.
*”Favorite” because its tough to have a fav scene in a life story that ends so needlessly and tragically.
Where’s My Daddy? by LW
These words continued to echo in my head and my heart as I sat in the theatre realizing that Oscar (and sadly, now Trayvon) are names of young black men that I know. For their greatness? No. For their works of service? No. For their athletic prowess? No. For the arbitrary cutting short of their lives way before realizing their prime and their potential? Yes. Why so?? Not because they were caught up in “the game” or another victim of “black on black” crime or because they were “at the wrong place at the wrong time”, but arguably and solely because they were… BLACK… Threatening the “order” that their white counterparts had imposed upon them.
Should the Oscars (and Trayvons) of the world sit down, be quiet, and follow police instructions as given? Absolutely. We all as citizens are called to submit to our authority figures as is precribed by law. But where is the line drawn when authority figures (and those who perceive themselves as authority figures) step outside of bounds and do the unthinkable? No court-imposed sentence, riot, march, or sit-in brings back the countless lives of black young (and old) men whose lives are abridged, the families of whom are left with gaping holes, and children asking, “Where’s Daddy?”
(I’m about to get on a roll, but I’ll save the rest for my text commentary.)
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