A family triumphs after the Oscar Grant tragedyBy Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Jan 31, 2013 - 10:59:51 AM
Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother, celebrated her birthday on New Year’s Eve as she has since the day he was killed. She prayed. She spent time with her family.
And she attended the “We Are All Oscar Grant” 4th Annual Vigil held at the Fruitvale BART Station, unofficially renamed the “Grant Station” by particularly the youth, in Oakland’s Bay Area community.
“I still am grieving but I’m remembering more of the laughs and good times Oscar and I spent together,” Ms. Johnson told The Final Call.
Many of those good times resurfaced in the faces of participants during the vigil, particularly Tatiana, Mr. Grant’s seven-year-old daughter. She was the highlight of the entire day because in the last three years, she’d only said, “Hi,” and “Thank you,” according to family members. But at the event, she expressed herself more and read a letter, which she wrote to her dad on Jan. 1, 2013.
Also featured were an artist tribute, speakers including Fred Hampton, Jr., a Chicago activist and son of assassinated Black Panther Party leader, and family members of other young Black men who were slain in police violence.
“The vigil was beautiful! It made me even want to fight more to try to help families who lost their loved ones, not just by police officers. There are people hurting and we have to have a way to minister to the hurt of those people by sharing the love of God because that’s the only way they’re going to be healed. There’s not enough comforting words anyone can say,” Ms. Johnson stated.
She was preparing to walk the red carpet at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah on Jan. 19. Her walk toward the big screen featuring Oscar’s life before former BART officer Johannes Mehserle shot him in the back on Jan. 1, 2009 will be bittersweet.
Independent filmmaker Ryan Coogler wanted to tell Mr. Grant’s story in “Fruitvale” as part of his social responsibility, but also to make people think, he told the San Francisco Film Society in a videotaped interview.
The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Grant, Academy Award winning actors Octavia Spencer as Ms. Johnson and Forest Whitaker is the producer.
“We are looking forward to this drama and having the world fall in love with Oscar as a person, father, son, nephew, brother, cousin, human being, and raise the conversation of police brutality in our community by way of racial profiling in our communities, hopefully to bring national attention and eventually a change to this criminal justice system,” said Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, the victim’s uncle.
Mr. Johnson created the Oscar Grant Foundation in August 2010 with an aim to serve the needs of families through its Family First Responders Crisis Team.
“The first priority is to assist families in need, especially in the initial aftermath of a traumatic event caused by gun violence. ... Police brutality is not the only problem we are facing but it is a very personal issue for families whose children are shot and killed,” Mr. Johnson told The Final Call.
The foundation is planning its first annual fundraiser for families this year.
Mr. Mehserle’s conviction as the first police officer in California charged for killing someone in the line of duty has led to legislation granting independent community oversight of BART, Mr. Johnson noted.
“The love of our people and the true experience of experiencing that pain and believing that God has called me to share my experience that whatever I can give to help bring a family through that traumatic experience is over and beyond who I am,” he told The Final Call.
“It’s not like my life anymore. It’s our people’s life. We are at a state of emergency and it’s going to require us, at least I found for myself, to make sacrifices, so I look beyond myself,” he continued.
On June 8, 2012, the First District Court of Appeal in California denied Mr. Mehserle’s appeal to have his felony conviction for involuntary manslaughter overturned. The felony bars him from becoming a police officer again.
Meanwhile, the Grant family is using what they’ve learned in their struggle for justice to help other families and avoid pitfalls they’ve experienced firsthand.
The first time they assisted another family was when Oakland police officers killed 34-year-old Derrick Jones on Nov. 8, 2010. That was two days after Mr. Mehserle was sentenced. “Before we could get back from L.A. from sentencing, OPD had murdered him,” Sis. Beatrice X told The Final Call. Sister Beatrice, a Muslim activist, is also Mr. Johnson’s wife and director of the Oscar Grant Foundation.
They united with Dionne Smith-Downs after her son, James Rivera was killed by police in Stockton, Calif. “We went to her and from that point on, we built a relationship. Danika Chatman was the first one who came to us—escorted and protected by the Nation of Islam on her way from Seattle, Wash.,” Sis. Beatrice stated.
Ms. Chatman’s son, Kenneth Harding, Jr., was gunned down by San Francisco police officers on July 16, 2011.
“The first bonding I witnessed with these grieving mothers was Ms. Wanda and Danika. She’d come from Seattle and didn’t know what was going on. Her son was murdered and it was all over the TV, but she was surrounded by love, by the brothers and sisters in the community,” Sis. Beatrice said.
The We Are All Oscar Grant movement was gaining momentum. But it was news of Trayvon Martin’s death in Sanford, Fla., that brought their pain, trauma and raw emotions full circle, and paused them for a brief minute, she continued.
“We were sitting in the airport, on our way from Saviours’ Day, on Oscar’s birthday when we got the call Trayvon was murdered. I cannot share with you what that did to myself, Bobby and Ms. Wanda (Oscar Grant’s mother). It was quite devastating! At that moment, we knew we were going to Sanford,” Sis. Beatrice said.
She is working to encourage others to care about what happens to families of police shooting victims, such as 18-year-old Alan Blueford, who was killed May 6, 2012 by an Oakland police officer; 15-year-old Derrick Gains killed June 7, 2012 by San Francisco police; 31-year-old Ernest Deunez, Jr., who was shot 11 times on June 8, 2011 by a Manteca, Calif., police officer; and 18-year-old Ramarley Graham of the Bronx, shot by New York police on Feb. 2, 2012.
“We know had we not been in that courtroom in Los Angeles every day, God knows what that judge would have done. We can’t be concerned about the coverage. It’s being covered by the community and people who come to see it. It’s being covered by God!” Sis. Beatrice declared.
The Oscar Grant Foundation and the community are planning a panel discussion and evening concert entitled, “Say It Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” for Feb. 16. The event hopes to unite the Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans to address problems facing their communities.
Abel Muhammad, Latino Representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, is the scheduled guest speaker, according to Sis. Beatrice.
Such events help to ease the pain of Oscar’s death, but it’s always there, especially in quiet time, during the holidays, or when looking at pictures, Mr. Johnson said.
“At the 4th Annual Vigil, reporters asked us when does the family just stop and go on with their lives? Like my sister said, we’ll be here for the next 50 years! The pain of losing Oscar will never subside in that in order for us to get justice, we can help get justice through other families,” he said.
Some believe gaining a conviction against the officer that killed his nephew should be enough but there are more Oscars, Mr. Johnson continued. “Though Mehserle was the first, we don’t want him to be the last ... Right now, they’re asking us when will we be satisfied. How can we be satisfied when police brutality is still happening every day!”
Trial in videotaped shooting of Oscar Grant begins in Los Angeles (FCN, 06-17-2010)
Transit cop who killed unarmed man gets a change of venue (FCN, 10-29-2009)
Leaders accuse officers of lying in Oscar Grant shooting case (FCN, 07-02-2009)
Fatal shooting of unarmed man sparks outrage (FCN, 01-19-2009)