Today is the third anniversary of Oscar Grant’s execution by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. For any of you unfamiliar with this story: Oscar, a young father, a young worker, unarmed, was shot in the back while lying prostrate in police custody on the Fruitvale BART station platform; after days of rage in the community, Mehserle was charged with murder and ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter, for which he served less than half of his two-year sentence.
The Oscar Grant Committee and Occupy Oakland organized a march in remembrance, beginning at the plaza we renamed after Oscar and ending with a rally at the Fruitvale BART. My husband and I walked up to meet the crowd when they arrived at the BART, which is just a few blocks from our house. The streets were lined with police cars and near the edge of the rally, there was a big black SUV with a couple of laughing cops inside. Most every cop we saw was smiling or shooting the breeze with fellow officers; none of them seemed to be taking this occasion too seriously. After all, they are collecting some nice fat overtime pay.
These annual rallies for Oscar have a certain “old home week” feel – there are the same faces and the same litanies of police brutality, with another year’s worth of injustices added to the list. Another mother or two gets up to tell the story of how her baby was murdered or jailed by BART cops or OPD. This year, we also heard from Kenneth Carrethers, a man who was beaten by Mehserle six weeks before Oscar was killed. Some people believe that if that incident had been properly investigated at the time, Oscar might still be alive. We heard from several of our OO comrades who were arrested during Friday’s melee. It was reassuring to see their faces, to know that they were not spending New Year’s Day in jail (there are still a couple of people who have not been released). Khalid, one of our most articulate and eloquent comrades (and someone who has been arrested multiple times at OO), told us to occupy our neighborhoods – to not let anyone go hungry on our block, to give comfort to a mentally ill neighbor, to take care of each other. He is so right. It’s the main lesson we are all teaching each other at Occupy; it’s really all that matters.
Uncle Bobby holding Tatiana – photo taken by Steve Rhodes on October 23, 2010.
This year, several members of Oscar Grant’s family spoke to us: his mother Wanda, his daughter Tatiana, and his Uncle Bobby (Cephus) Johnson. They all expressed their thanks to us for coming out to support them and for standing up for what we believe in. Their strength, their composure, their love was overwhelming. I found myself crying and looked around and saw others wiping away tears. It probably would have been easier if all of these mothers, these daughters, these uncles – who have endured such heartbreak, such loss – were crying too, but they are fierce, they are warriors, they are able to take that next breath, somehow. Their courage allows us all to keep breathing, to keep fighting, even though another baby was shot to death in Oakland in 2011, on a day that police decided to spend their time arresting occupiers for no reason.
As we left, we saw Uncle Bobby standing near the periphery of the crowd. (Everyone calls him that; Oscar’s family has been gracious enough to allow us such intimacies, to allow us to feel like we know them even when we don’t.) I stopped to thank Uncle Bobby for being there so that we could all express our feelings and I totally lost it and started crying again. He gave me a big hug and I thought to myself, how crazy, how sweet, that he is able to comfort me.
We walked home and at the very far end of the BART parking lot was a lone police officer, sitting in the car with his window rolled down. I dried my tears and put on my best middle-aged-white lady smile and said to him, “Happy New Year, Officer!” He smiled. Then I said, “Try not to kill anybody this year, OK?” He stopped smiling.