Oscar Grant's daughter Tatiana
(L-R) Ryan Coogler, filmmaker and director of "Fruitvale Station" and Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson, Grant's uncle, speaking to students at Berkeley International High School following a screening on Dec. 4. (Photo by Beatrice X/Oscar Grant Foundation)
ONE ON ONE WITH CEPHUS “UNCLE BOBBY” JOHNSON on the 5-year anniversary of the police slaying of his nephew Oscar Grant
It’ll be five years come January 1, 2014, since Oscar Grant was fatally shot on the Bay Area Rapid Transit District’s Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland, California. His family, activists and supporters are planning to commemorate New Year’s Day and urge people to never forget what happened and to remember his and legacy.
Grant, subdued by two officers, was laying on his stomach, hands behind his back, when Johannes Mehserle fired the single shot that was heard around the world. Train passengers captured Grant’s last moments on their cell phone videos. Their images went viral and sparked a movement for justice under the chorus, “I Am Oscar Grant!”
His case marked the first time a peace officer in the state of California was convicted for a killing that occurred in the line of duty.
Grant’s family have created the Oscar Grant Foundation to build a Family First Responders Crisis Team to assist other families experiencing similar situations. Young, gifted and Black filmmaker Ryan Coogler made “Fruitvale Station,” a multi-award-winning, critically-acclaimed movie about Grant’s life. Books have and are being written about his case.
And above all, said Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, Grant’s uncle, in this one-on-one interview with Sentinel contributor Charlene Muhammad, his family continues to tell his story in hopes lessons they learned in their battle for justice helps to eradicate police brutality.
CHARLENE MUHAMMAD (SENTINEL): At this five-year juncture, what do you want people to remember about Oscar Grant and what’s occurred since his death?
CEPHUS JOHNSON (CJ): The movie is really significant because one of the things that we wanted definitely the world to know was that Oscar first was a human just as well as all the other young men and women that are being killed by these rogue police officers across the United States. We wanted them to know that these children of ours have humanity. These Black and Brown young men have humanity, that they have a right to life. One of the things we really give a lot of praises to is the fact that “Fruitvale Station” was made and spoke specifically to that. It worked to humanize Oscar rather than letting the mass media leave him dehumanized. I think in regards to other things that have occurred, we all know that Johannes Mehserle was the first in California history to be arrested, charged, convicted and sent to jail. And today, the officer (Richard Chrisman) that killed Danny Rodriguez (in 2010 in Arizona) has been convicted and it looks as though he’s going to do at least 10 years in prison and that’ll be the first in Arizona State history. We want people to know they have to continue to speak on behalf of their loved ones. They have to just believe that it’s the community support that will help bring the change that we need to get these officers that are committing these crimes to be arrested. And most importantly, that as we’ve done continuously, which is to continue to speak about Oscar, to speak about your loved one and never ever lay down or give up in that effort of seeking justice for your loved one!
SENTINEL: How is Oscar’s mother, Wanda, doing? How is his daughter - really all of you?
CJ: Wanda’s actually gaining her voice. She’s been speaking out at different places on violence prevention. She’s speaking to the issue of how we need to love our children, despite the fact that they may not be the perfect child. We’re glad to see that she has now stepped up to that plate as a mother to speak the very issue of Oscar being murdered. Tatiana herself also has gained her voice. It was tremendous when she spoke to the community year as to them loving her father and there’s no telling what she may share this year. Last year she shared a letter that she wrote to her daddy and she’s planning on being at the event on the first. Chante, his sister, is still struck by the fact that she doesn’t have her little brother but overall she’s supporting her mother. She’s loving Tatiana, and she’s finding her own way to work through the pain and sadness that she has. The rest of the family including myself, we continue to struggle. We still work hard to keep his name out there and each day is a different day, especially for myself. I speak to students and I could just feel Oscar in those students and it becomes really tough and hard only in the respect that I lost Oscar and it gets painful. But I work my way through that also because we know what we’re doing is not in vain and it helps save another child.
SENTINEL: What are some activities scheduled for the 5th year commemoration?
CJ: The theme is “Peace is the Answer. Put down the guns. What about our children.” Everything’s centered around the aspect of love because we can’t have peace if we don’t have love. We can’t have our children if we don’t love them. And we can’t love ourselves if we don’t put the guns down. When we can do all that, we at peace. The children will relate through spoken word, poetry, and music what peace is to them. This will help us start the New Year out and recognize our fallen loved ones. We’ll release balloons, doves, sing together to help highlight cause, which is to stop gun violence by police and each other. There are many mothers who’ve lost loved ones that need to be with us on that day.
SENTINEL: What has the Oscar Grant Foundation found in terms of the numbers of killings similar to Oscar’s over these past years?
CJ: We see many more murders today than we’ve ever seen and that has a lot to do with on that platform, people utilized video cameras and they recorded what happened to Oscar. We have so many before Oscar that didn’t have that opportunity to have someone with a camera brave enough to stand up and record the murder or the beating that they suffered at the hands of the police. All across the United States, we’re seeing videos of police officers committing heinous acts and it’s because the community is beginning to use their videos, it appears that it seems to be more. But what I believe today is there were many before Oscar that weren’t videotaped. Also, there are many families out there who are fighting just as hard without video and we can’t discredit them. They’re bringing their loved ones to the forefront without videos and we’re becoming aware of them because the families are not laying down.
SENTINEL: Thank you.