New Year’s Day is supposed to be a joyous occasion, celebrating a brand new year full of opportunity. But for Oscar Grant’s family, loved ones and community, New Year’s Day is a reminder of a persisting injustice.
Oscar Grant III was killed in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2009. Thirteen years later, the Oscar Grant Foundation will once again host a vigil honoring Grant at Fruitvale Bart Station from noon to 4 p.m. PST. Writer Thandisizwe Chimurenga tweeted that Grant’s memory lives on.
Losing a loved one is tough under normal circumstances. Even with time, the hurt doesn’t go away. People just become better at coping. But when a person is wrongfully taken away, it further compounds the loss.
Rev. Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother, celebrated her birthday on New Year’s Eve, using her birthday as an opportunity to raise funds for the Oscar Grant Foundation. Johnson founded the foundation in 2010 after the conviction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer who killed Grant.
Despite Grant being pinned down and unarmed, former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot him, maintaining he thought he was reaching for his taser and not his gun. Sentenced to two years but serving only 11 months, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Last January, the Almeda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley decided not to pursue charges against another former BART officer involved in Grant’s death. Several months later, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he would conduct an independent review of Anthony Pirone’s involvement in Grant’s killing following a request from several parties, including Johnson, the Justice 4 Oscar Grant Coalition and the Bart Board of Directors.
Litigation by the KQED podcast “On Our Watch” forced BART to release records of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and subsequent investigation. According to reports of the never-before-released information shines a new light on Pirone’s actions that led to Grant being killed.
The new information reaffirmed what community members and organizers have been saying about how the institution of policing simply reacts without concern for the impact on community members. Released information also shows the inability of the police to investigate “their own.”
While 2021 saw convictions in the cases of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin and former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter, convictions do not bring back loved ones lost. Like Mehserle, Potter claimed that she mistook her gun for her taser, a weak excuse that still doesn’t hold up.
In the 13 years since Grant’s killing, his family and community have not given up. As they have shown, driving the change that is needed to keep communities safe requires sustained engagement.