Jamie Burton-Oare's 'BREATHE' explores life of Eric Garner and the issue of over-policing

FLINT, Michigan — In a world where trends come and go, it’s crucial to remember that some stories should never fade into obscurity. Jamie Burton-Oare, a Flint native, award-winning writer, director, producer, actress, and filmmaker, has embarked on a mission to disrupt the trends and inspire change through her powerful film project, BREATHE.

The film sheds light on the pervasive issue of over-policing, drawing attention to the reality that for many, like Eric Garner, it’s just another day in their life until it’s not. 

BREATHE is a short film narrative and short dramatic fantasy about the last day of Eric Garner’s life. For Eric, it’s a normal day in his life in his neighborhood, but for the rest of the world, it’s the day Eric faces the reality of taking his last breath.  

Burton-Oare’s journey with this project began during her time in graduate school at Cal State University-Northridge in 2014. The story was fresh in her mind, and she was determined to write about it. When she presented her script in class, it resonated deeply with her professor who urged her to turn it into a film. Burton-Oare’s response was a resounding “I plan to,” setting the stage for a powerful story that would ultimately disrupt the way we think about over-policing.

She recognized that this story was not just about Eric Garner, but also about Ramsey Orta who filmed Garner's deadly arrest. By giving him a place in her project, Burton-Oare aimed to highlight the interconnectedness of their lives and experiences.  

Burton-Oare’s commitment to this project goes beyond storytelling as it’s about generating conversation and disrupting the cycle of complacency that often follows tragedies. 

She understands that America has a tendency to work on trends, and when the spotlight fades, discussions wane. But she refuses to let this happen with the issue of over-policing. She’s here to make people talk about it the way it needs to be talked about.  

She declares a poignant parallel between the challenges of being a police officer and the daily struggles faced by Black individuals when they walk down the street. The question she poses is simple yet profound: “What’s the difference?” Her personal experience of being pulled over on the West Side Highway during an Amadou Diallo protest, with guns drawn, underscores the urgency of addressing these issues. 
Jamie Burton-Oare.
Burton-Oare’s passion for this project stems from a lifelong awareness of these injustices. She has been witnessing them her entire life and has actively participated in protests, but for her, protest alone is not enough.

She aspires to be a surgeon of minds, cutting out the bad cells that breed racism and ignorance. This transformation in perspective, she believes, is the key to solving the problem.  

The journey to bring this project to life wasn’t without its challenges. Burton-Oare initially tried to film in New York City, where the events took place, but she encountered unexpected resistance. It was as if the police, who had initially seemed supportive, suddenly wanted her to create unnecessary obstacles and her ability to shoot the film.  

Undeterred, Burton-Oare looked to Newark, New Jersey, and enlisted the support of her fellow Howard University classmate Amiri Baraka Jr. (Newark’s Chief of Staff) who welcomed her to Newark with open arms.

Burton-Oare also cast Richard Rosario in his debut acting role in BREATHE. Rosario adds another layer of injustice to the narrative. He was wrongfully convicted of murder in New York City and spent 20 years behind bars before his sentence was overturned. Rosario fought relentlessly to clear his name, representing himself in partnership with his attorneys. His story amplifies the urgency of addressing systemic issues within the criminal justice system.

Burton-Oare’s project invites everyone to sit in the front row, not as spectators but as active participants in the conversation. She wants us all to understand that at any given point, we could be Eric Garner or Ramsey Orta. By putting ourselves in their position, Burton-Oare aims to create dissonance in our minds of the officers needed for real change.

BREATHE isn’t just a film, it’s a call to action. It’s a plea to disrupt the trends and inspire real change. It’s a reminder that these issues are not confined to history books or distant memories as they are part of our present reality. Burton-Oare’s unwavering commitment to this project serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us that storytelling has the power to shape perceptions, ignite conversations, and ultimately transform society.  

As we engage with this project, let us remember Burton-Oare’s words: “If you see the other person as the same human being that you are, you will treat them as such.” It’s time to replace erroneous fears with empathy and ensure that stories like Eric Garner’s and Ramsey Orta’s are never forgotten.  

A special screening of 'BREATHE' is set for Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. at the Marlene Boll Theater as part of the 4th Annual Detroit Black Film Festival. For tickets, click here.
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