Several hundred people gathered in front of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland New Year’s Day to remember and celebrate the life of Oscar Grant III, who was shot and killed by a BART police officer there on New Year’s Day in 2009.
The demonstration was hosted by the Oscar Grant Foundation, led by Grant’s mother, the Rev. Wanda Johnson. Johnson kicked off the rally with a message of unity and love:
“I’m saddened but I’m excited because I know Oscar will be looking down and smiling to see this whole sea of people gathered together to celebrate him and his life. … We don’t know what’s going to happen when we leave this place and go to our respective homes, but one thing we can do while we are here is share the love we have for one another.”
The speakers, who ranged from Grant’s family members and local public officials to clergy members and artists, spoke of the legacy of slavery and its impact on racial equality today.
Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said:
“The abolitionists in 1850 were doing what you’re doing today. They were saying, ‘No justice, no peace. … This movement is to say let that be history that will not repeat itself.”
Gibson McElhaney encouraged people in the crowd to write to the City Council with their thoughts on racial justice in advance of a special meeting on Jan. 12 to discuss the demonstrations that have erupted in the city’s streets almost nightly over the past several weeks.
The demonstrations followed separate grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island in New York.
Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who said he meant to use his Taser stun gun instead of the service revolver he used to shoot Grant, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. He was released from custody in 2011.
Pittsburgh hip hop artist Jasiri X, who wrote a song about Grant shortly after his death, commended activists in Oakland for securing a rare conviction against the officer who shot Grant:
“That was the flashpoint in my generation — I wasn’t around in the 60s — in my generation of people standing up and fighting against police brutality.”
Oscar Grant’s cousin, Anthony Johnson, said his cousin always wanted to be famous:
“God works in mysterious ways.”
Six years after he watched his cousin die on the BART station platform, Anthony Johnson said he’s not mad anymore:
“I appreciate that people are keeping his name alive. … It’s funny because this is exactly what he would have wanted. He had gone through his struggles and was becoming a man. He always said he was going to be famous one day.”