Oscar Grant, 10 Years Later: “Gone But Not Forgotten”
His name has become nationally synonymous with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The image is now iconic: a young black man with a great smile and a black beanie. His story has been retold in sidewalk conversations, in small bars, on the big screen and covered by every news outlet from here to New York. His name is repeatedly and primally shouted from bullhorns during protests in cities across the country. Some would argue that he is a martyr in the broad scope of our history, a symbol of the wrongs suffered by countless black men at the hands of police. But here in Oakland, the tragic story of Oscar Grant is less symbolic than it is personal.
Tuesday marked the 10-year anniversary of Grant’s death when the unarmed 22-year-old was pinned face down and shot in the back by BART police on the Fruitvale Station platform in the wee hours of New Year’s Day in 2009. There was no escaping the reality of what happened – the incident was captured on numerous bystander cell phone videos and quickly posted to social media. Over and over again, people forced themselves to watch the footage from different angles and perspectives, seeking out any explanation for Officer Johannes Mehserle’s fatal reaction. Time and time again, people came up short – there was simply no way to sugar coat it, Grant was murdered and there was no justification for it, none…whatsoever.
Mehserle is one of very few officers who have been held liable for shooting deaths involving the black population they police; however, the involuntary manslaughter charge he was found guilty of felt inadequate. When he walked out of a Los Angeles jail in 2011, it was painfully clear that the short time the former officer lost behind bars in no way compared to the lifetime he ended. In one moment, Mehserle took away a doting grandson, a fiance, a son, a nephew…the father of a 4-year-old girl.
His daughter, Tatiana Grant, now a teenager, stood alongside family during Tuesday’s four-hour vigil held at the Fruitvale Station where her father was killed 10 years before. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, read a letter written by the sister of Grant’s fiance, who praised him for having been a good man who was always quick to help others in need. The letter detailed how Grant would bring food and baby bottles when she was broke and how “Titi had the best dad.”
“I wish she could see how much you loved her.”
The life of Oscar Grant was cut short, but activists and those closest to him are committed to making sure his death was not in vain. The tragedy sparked unrest but also inspired discourse on race relations in our country – his death forced us to look at the lives of black men as constantly at risk, as too easily brushed aside. If anything good has come of his tragic ending, it is the proclamation and insistence that yes, black lives do matter. Oscar Grant’s life mattered and should be remembered.
Forgetting the life taken, and the social issues that still exist and threaten more young lives, is not acceptable to Grant’s family, who have taken steps in an effort to have the station’s name changed to Fruitvale Grant Station. A mural has also been commissioned for a large piece of concrete wall there, where one day his smile will shine on us all, reminding us that life is precious and we have to work to protect each other.
Like it says on the the fliers his mother, Wanda Johnson, has passed out over the course of the past decade, Oscar Grant is “Gone But Not Forgotten.”
The mural featured in the cover photo was created by Trust Your Struggle Collective.