“Eleven years later, and I’m still fighting”: Remembering Oscar Grant

Photo: Wanda Johnson, with photos of her son Oscar Grant, who was murdered by BART police in 2009.

 

Interview with Wanda Johnson

 

On New Year’s Day 2009, then-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant III at Fruitvale BART Station. The murder was captured on video by several bystanders and quickly went viral on social media, prompting mass protests in Oakland. 

The family’s protracted three-year struggle for justice resulted in the first officer in history in California to be convicted for a shooting in the so-called “line of duty.”

Oscar is survived by his 16-year-old daughter Tatiana Grant, his fiancée Sophina Mesa, his sister Chantay Moore, and his mother Wanda Johnson.

The following is an edited excerpt from a longer interview with Wanda Johnson, Oscar’s mother:

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He loved life. He loved to be around friends. He loved to be the one who is known the best, friends with multiple people, multiple nationalities. Didn’t matter. He just loved life and loved people.

He played basketball. He played baseball. He played football.

He was a child who loved to do multiple, multiple things. So he had a lot of stuff going on in his life. He had plans. He had goals. He had visions. He had dreams.

He would be at church doing the prayers in front of two or three thousand people. He would say scripture. He would sing. He just was full of life. He had a personality where if you needed help and he could help you, he would help you. He was just that type of young man.

And so every time I think about Oscar, I think about all the times that he has tried to help others. The night that he was shot and killed, he was trying to help his friend. He didn’t like how his friend was being treated by the officer. And Oscar ended up losing his life that night.

Had that officer who hit Oscar and who did his takedown move and who was pointing his taser at everybody and cussing everybody out – had he had some self-control, maybe Oscar would still be alive.

Justice has not been served. And I’m sure that it will not be served on this side of the earth because our judicial system is not set up for people of color.

“Justice has not been served. And I’m sure that it will not be served on this side of the earth because our judicial system is not set up for people of color.”

So I just look at that and I look at Oscar’s life, how even with him being gone, he’s still making an impact on society [in] many different ways. And what happened with Oscar was really a start of a movement showing the injustices that African-Americans face as a people of color.

There was I think seven different videos from seven different nationalities. It was amazing, let me tell you. From that point on, when those people saw Oscar lying on that ground, and they saw that officer stand up and shoot and kill him, they became like our families.

It’s not easier to deal with the loss, but it’s easier to deal with the system because you have that support from outside. And so I would say that to families who have lost a loved one, number one, that you’re not alone, that the community supports you.

And when they’re dealing with what has happened, to make sure they continue to say their child’s name. Because sometimes, if the name doesn’t get in the media, the parents have to be the one to insist that it get there.

Don’t give up. Eleven years later, and I’m still fighting. You can’t give up no matter what it seems like. No matter how hard it may be. There’ll be days when you don’t even feel like getting out of the bed. But keep pressing because if you don’t, they’ll just let it all die out.

And your son will just be another name that nobody knows.

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This story is part of the series TAKEN FROM US: Remembering lives lost to police violence.

This piece was reported and recorded by Chris Lee and edited and produced by Lucy Kang.

First aired on UpFront on August 11, 2020.

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