Happy Birthday Oscar Grant, Love Mom
Amidst nationwide rallies protesting too many bereaved mothers "picking up the pieces of state violence against communities of color" comes the premiere of a short, stirring film about Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, whose 2009 killing by a BART cop signalled for many the start of the current plague of police killings. Oscar, a 22-year-old father, was shot in the back and killed early New Year's Day as he lay face-down on the Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland; his death was caught on video by subway onlookers, and violent protests followed. Oscar's killer, Johannes Mehserle, was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but Johnson has always insisted, "My son was murdered! He was murdered! He was murdered." The story of Oscar's last day - Wanda's birthday - and sudden death was told in the harrowing film, Fruitvale Station.
For the last six years, Johnson has gathered the family and community together to celebrate Oscar's birthday, remember him and inspire each other to help prevent more senseless deaths, in part through the work of the Oscar Grant Foundation. This year, filmmaker Mohammad Gorjestani documented the event. Wanda Johnson, says one participant, is "someone who's put her arms around the community, who's taken that pain and used it as a platform to bring healing to the community." Her message, above all, is that "Oscar's life mattered," as did all those who came before, and since. In an open letter to the parents of Michael Brown after he too was pointlessly killed by police, Johnson offered "my heartfelt condolences for your immeasurable loss as you bury and bid farewell to your son. No words can ever assuage the pain we feel as parents when our precious children are taken away from us in such a violent, senseless manner...This is where we, as parents, have to be relentless in the vindication of our slain sons..." So many slain sons, so many fierce grieving mothers left behind. This weekend, Johnson was among those marching to D.C. as "a tribute to our children and to moms around the country who mourn - instead of celebrate - on Mother's Day...We deserve to live in peace." Amen.
Wanda Johnson. Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP