compassion the audience had for a young man, Oscar Grant, whose life was cut short, 1.6 miles from where I live.
Recalling the last time such a moment occurred in a theater was as a boy, watching a movie about an animal put down because of rabies. Then, it was little kids who were moved; this weekend it was adults. Good for them and our society. There's hope. Violent video games, and the isolation prevalent---encouraged by iPods, smart phones and the internet---have not removed the last vestiges of compassion that we as humans have.
The film viewed was Fruitvale Station, the very station I frequent twice or thrice a week, when going to work. I was there Monday morning, and at 9:30 p.m., on my way home to Alameda. This time, the walls to the train station were not the same. They were somber, I saw them as sad witnesses to a sorrowful piece of history played out in a community not far from my home. A bit of Oscar's spirit touched me, as I stood where his life ended.
Oscar Grant struggled with anger. It contributed towards his death. A fight with someone else, on the train, captured the attention of the police who snuffed out the life of this man of twenty-two. When shot, he was already subdued by the police, laying on his stomach, on the platform of the train station, early on New Year's Day, 2009. There was NO reason for shooting him.
One major issue frequently addressed when working with clients is expressing our needs, while being calm and polite with those we interact with. I help others use nonviolent communication. There's nothing wrong with anger, in itself. How we express it, is the issue. After taking in the film, I wondered what would I have done, if I was there, that night? I have an idea.
What Would I Have Done?
Years ago, when twenty-three, attending U.C. Berkeley, I witnessed a young African American approached by a policeman. The young fellow had done nothing wrong. He was just standing at the Shattuck Station. The officer accosted him, asking him, rather aggressively, what he was doing, as I was taking this in. The fellow in his twenties was not rude, nor aggressive.
Amazingly, the cop pulled out his baton and viciously whacked the young man several times. I, incredulous, that this was happening, was shocked, feeling helpless as a person's dignity was tossed away as easily as a used Kleenex tissue. The cop almost swung at me, when I asked him what he was doing and wanted his badge number. Commenting on this ugly, shameful event makes me sad, even now, as I share this story.
The next day, I went to the police station, filing a report on the brutality witnessed. The police were not kind, discouraging me, as I stood for the respect and rights of another. No matter, eventually I vouched for the young man cruelly mistreated, when there was a followup internal affairs investigation.
How Would I Respond, During a Dangerous Time?
A person never knows how how he may react when in crisis. I've been mugged. A razor blade---a box cutter---was placed to my throat by three young men, in East San Jose, while they asked for my wallet. It happened in my twenties, while working for the Hillview Reid Library, when getting into my car, going home that night. Someone was stomped to death, months earlier, a few blocks away.
I have been surrounded, while getting into my car----you can see why I ride a bike----at a park, by six big, long-haired, fellows in their twenties, wanting to harm me. I talked my way out of that tense moment. The sad memory of this experience was watching the Pacific Gas and Electric employee who was enjoying his lunch in his truck drive off, when he saw trouble brewing, as did a mother and her children. Hastily, in her station wagon, she fled. I was left alone to handle these men.
My point? Danger, I've known. Robbed at gunpoint, in San Leandro, on Clarke Street, five years ago, was my lot. I worked in a psychiatric hospital for nine years. Saw plenty of violence there. And in each case, kept my cool.
What would I have done on that early morning at the BART station, on that fateful, tense, night---the last that Oscar would ever know? Well, not only the past, but my response last Thursday gives me an idea. A fellow on that day was screaming while pacing the sidewalk, in front of the Main Library of Alameda, where I was. I mentioned a bit about this in this post.
When staff inside the library and patrons were concerned, I reassured them, taking action. Calmly, I spoke with the man, before the police arrived. I talked with the police, sharing my perspective. The fellow was assisted by the police, and taken, in handcuffs, to get help.
What might have been my response, if I were there, that tragic evening, at Fruitvale Station? I will never know, but my guess is I might have quietly and calmly interceded with the police on Oscar's behalf. Of course, that's speculation. But I sure wish I was there, then. The loss of one life affects us all. When we are insensitive to injustice and cruelty, we all suffer.
I'm sorry Oscar died. I feel badly his daughter lost him at an early age. I wish we---including all police, everywhere---learn from this tragedy. You want to know what I'm grateful for? I'm grateful that people wept, and I wept, while watching Fruitvale Station, this past Sunday.