Oakland and Los Angeles residents are preparing for a verdict in the Johannes Mehserle shooting of Oscar Grant. Family and friends are filled with apprehension and hope that the jury will come back in their favor and find the ex-Bart officer guilty of second-degree murder and voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
New Year’s Day 2009, responding to reports of a fight on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train returning from San Francisco, BART Police officers detained Oscar Grant and several other passengers on the platform at the Fruitvale BART Station. Officer Johannes Mehserle and another officer were restraining Grant, who was face down and allegedly resisting arrest. Officer Mehserle stood, drew his gun and shot Grant once in the back.
Grant turned out to be unarmed and was pronounced dead the next morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland. The shooting was captured on multiple cell phone cameras and the footage was sent to media outlets and to various websites, where it was watched hundreds of thousands of times. The following days saw both peaceful and violent protests prompting the case to be transferred from Oakland to Los Angeles.
Just one day after the jury was given the case to deliberate, a juror called in sick Tuesday morning delaying deliberations until today when the jury will have to start from the beginning with the addition of a jury alternate. One of the jurors had previously notified the courts that he would have to leave by July 7 for a previously scheduled trip.
Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson, uncles Cephus and Kenneth Johnson along with representatives of the Nation of Islam, and Jack Bryson, father of two of the young men also involved in the incident spoke exclusively to myself and Final Call National Correspondent Sister Charlene Muhammad.
“Well, you know at this point it’s very stressful,” explains Cephus Johnson. “Much anxiety, and of course much you know sleepless nights. You know this issue concerning the fact the jury may have to start all over again with the deliberations has brought to our attention that we may have to stay another week. So the hardship financially has been trying. The time off work is challenging and just being here and going through this has really taking a toll. You know the support that which we would hope to get financially hasn’t really came from the political sector that we thought that it would come from. Especially from those that seem to be utilizing our name in the name of Oscar Grant saying that they’ve have actually been with this movement since the beginning has caused us to raise some questions up there about their true motives.”
“Besides the questions of the jury and these new faces that we’re seeing now that seem to have taken notice of the case causes us to raise questions of what this is all about.”
(WARNING: This video contains graphic material)
“So I guess basically with that being said, we as family are in a really critically stage of just understanding this whole process. There’s been people who have who stood with us—I’ll speak more about the coalition of activists from Oakland and Los Angeles have basically stood with us been with us supported us embraced us loved us and even have financially helped us in ways that they could. They’ve been to court with us and utilized their First Amendment right to speak into the injustice and police brutality and for that we are gratefully indebted. Much love and thanks go forward to that community and to those very few politicians who have stood up on our behalf—and I mean very few. All these others who have risen to the occasion now, you know, it really really bothers me that they can proudly state our name and what they’re doing and how they’re helping yet we haven’t even met them.”
Cephus Johnson, who earlier this year in January organized a prayer vigil in Oakland to pray for police injustice and invited all of the local clergy and politicians was disappointed in their failure to attend and show their support for the family at a time he says it was most crucially needed.
“Now it seems as though many are standing proudly in saying that they’ve been with the Grant family that they’ve been supporting the Grant family and they’re speaking on behalf of the Grant family and that hurts. You know it hurts because we needed the condolences, we needed the love, we just needed to be embraced. We just needed to know that we’re being supported. And now we’re being supported by many that we don’t even know.”
Those politicians, community activists, and clergy who the family says has been by their side include a short but they say dedicated list of people. Among them are Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks, Lynette Sweet and Carole Ward Allen, Ed.D, members of the BART’s Board of Directors, Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, Allen Temple Baptist Church Senior Pastor J. Alfred Smith, Reverend Tommy Smith of Palma Ceia Baptist Church, Bishop Gordon Humphreys Jr., Senior Pastor of United Ministries Oakland Olivet, and Brother Minister Keith Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, who the family says as never left their side.
“These are the type of people you can go to when there is true issues in the community that need to be expressed and you need support,” says Johnson.
In Los Angeles, the family credits Aidge Patterson and the L.A. Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant, Dr. Anthony Samad, Radio Free KJLH 102.3 FM and the Front Page family, Reverend Lewis Logan, and Minister Tony Muhammad.
“So much happens in L.A. that this type of thing may not make the front page, explains Brother Minister Keith Muhammad. “Some local press, not Black press, called the Oscar Grant case Rodney King light. This is not Rodney King light. To even consider this to be a small case when in fact it’s the largest case in the history of the state. No peace officer has ever been charged with murder in this state, in its history and none in this country has been convicted. So this is the largest trial of this nature that has ever happened. We know it’s important the Los Angeles community is as informed about the details of this case as we are in Oakland. That’s why the activism rose up in Oakland the way it did. Because we were better informed and we had seen the video we heard of the testimonies—and when people hear what has been said in this case, I don’t know any of our people who would not be moved to stand for justice.”
Final Call National Correspondent Sister Charlene Muhammad contributed to this article.
Unexpected and unapologetically Black, at Jasmyne Cannick, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.