Let Us Not Forget…

oscar mural

I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But my mom remembers him working in the butcher department of Farmer Joe’s Market in the Fruitvale area of East Oakland. She remembers his smile. His eagerness to help customers. His spirit.

I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But I am all too familiar with the fashion of how he lost his life – at the hands of someone that decided to be judge, jury, and executioner. Emmett Till. Latasha Harlins. Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Trayvon Martin. Jordan Davis. Ernest Hoskins. And many others. And just like those that succumbed to the same fate as Oscar, the person or persons responsible for their deaths did not receive a punishment that quite matched the crime. Maybe a few years in jail – and in some cases, just a $500 fine and probation. But is there ever such a thing? Is there an amount of punishment that will bring the deceased back to life? That would heal the gaping wound in hearts of their mother, father, children, etc.?

I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But at the time of his death, there was a desire in me to do something. After seeing the grainy footage of his death over and over again on the news, included were images of his mother, Wanda Johnson, his uncle, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, his girlfriend, Sofina Mesa, and his daughter, Tatiana Grant – emotions within me stirred. Anger. Sadness. Frustration. Sorrow – especially for little Tatiana. In every photo of her and Oscar that I saw, I couldn’t help but feel the happiness and joy within both of their eyes and smiles. I could only imagine the pain this child felt knowing that her father would not be coming home again. Would never pick her up in his arms – hugging her so tightly with the hopes that nothing would break their bond. But something did – a single bullet from a gun.

Shortly after Oscar’s death, Farmer Joe’s Market placed canisters at each cash register to raise money for little Tatiana. Such a noble gesture on the part of the store, I thought. What the fundraising would yield, could never replace what this child lost – but in some way, it could help. On a day of shopping, I decided that I would donate what I could in the canister. I reached in my purse to find some money – “She gonna put her money towards THAT?!” exclaimed a voice from behind me. The voice belonged to an elderly Black man, that had extremely perplexed look on his face – but he wasn’t looking at me. Apparently he was talking to the cashier. It was as if I didn’t exist. The cashier looked at me, and shook his head. In that moment I had a choice. I could do what us Oaklanders call “flash” (i.e. completely go off on this man in a fit of anger). Or ignore that man’s ignorance and place MY money in the canister. While giving the man an icy glare,  I chose to do the latter. This money was for Tatiana – and I couldn’t taint a good deed with venomous rage.  

On July 12, 2013, Fruitvale Station is set for nation-wide release. So far, the film has garnered huge accolades in the arts and entertainment world. I am not really a movie buff – I may go to the theater once a year, and I rarely have enough time to watch a flick at home. But I do plan on going to see the film that focuses on the last day of  Oscar’s life. In promoting the film, it seems that Fruitvale Station’s PR team is making a conscious effort to not let people forget what this movie is about – Oscar Grant III and the injustice that surrounds his death. In sharing some of the film’s Facebook updates, there have been a mixture of reactions from some of my friends. Some are eager to see the film. Some see the film sanctifying a hood, and that Hollywood is just using Oscar’s story to make a buck. I didn’t know Oscar Grant. Personally, at least. But I do hope that the film encourages folks to not tolerate injustice – to remember that a son, nephew, boyfriend, father was lost that fateful New Years day in 2009. And most importantly, to not forget Oscar Grant III.