More than a decade after Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART police officer at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station, his smiling face now is the subject of a mural unveiled at the station on Saturday to memorialize his short life and the injustice of his death.
The 22-year-old was unarmed when he was pinned to the station’s floor by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who in 2009 shot Grant in the back and claimed it was an accident. An internal investigation released by BART earlier this year at the onset of California’s new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, refuted that claim.
The mural, which shows a depiction of Grant with the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland skyline as the backdrop, faces a street next to the BART station also recently named after Grant. On Saturday, his mother, Wanda, and uncle Bobby — whose birth name is Cephus Johnson – thanked their community for demanding justice in Grant’s killing.
“What has happened today is a result of this community that embraced us, stood with us, cried with us went back and forth to court with us, prayed for us … but most importantly utilized your first amendment right to say, ‘I am Oscar Grant,’” said uncle Bobby.
“Because of that mantra, we got, for the first time in California history, an officer arrested, charged, convicted and sent to jail,” he said, adding that since Grant’s death, “over 1,200 [people] have been murdered by the police in California.”
The incident was caught on cell phone video, and Mehserle was chareged with murder and later convicted of manslaughter. He served one year in prison after claiming he mistook his gun for a taser.
“Our work is not done,” uncle Bobby said. “The power of police to use deadly force must be guided by sensible legislation that help safeguard humans lives as well as protect human rights. There is a way to do that…[the work] does not stop today just because we got the mural.”
Grant’s notorious death set in motion a number of reforms, including the creation of an independent watchdog agency to monitor the BART Police department.
“Bart had to really re-organize and take a close look at themselves and how that department operated,” said Civil Rights attorney John Burris, who represented Grant’s family a $25 million wrongful death claim against BART on behalf of Grant’s family, said that his death in many ways marked the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was the community rising up, saying ‘we are not going to take this, we are not going to stand for this,’ and demanding that something be done,” said Burris.
BART director Lateefa Simon called the mural unveiling and street naming in Grant’s honor “a very big day.”
“It shows this community that BART is a public institution and we are responsible to the public, and that includes this family. We committed a wrong ten years ago and it’s about making it better,” Simon said. “There is nothing that can bring him back. But there is a concerted effort from this board, our management and this community to work together to make sure everyone makes it home.”
Johnson said that the mural reassured her that her son did not die in vain.
“He died for a purpose, so that we could come together in this spot. I believe there will be a sense of peace in this place, a sense of healing, and that it will serve as a focal point for people’s memories throughout the years,” said Johnson.