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Oscar Grant’s mother: ‘My son was murdered!’

July 9, 2010

by Julianne Hing

Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother, hadn’t intended to speak after the verdict was announced, but it’s her voice that has resounded ever since – the iconic call for resistance to injustice. Here the word “murdered” is on her lips, as she said repeatedly, “My son was murdered. He was murdered.” – Video frame: KTVU
In a press conference outside the Los Angeles courthouse immediately after the verdict was announced, Oscar Grant’s family spoke out about the verdict, calling it a “great disappointment.” Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson said ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter felt like being “slapped in the face by a system that has denied us true justice.”

Johnson spoke unexpectedly, adding her thoughts at the close of the family’s press conference. “My son was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered,” she said, calm but forceful, enunciating every word and looking straight into the dozens of news cameras that had gathered outside the courthouse.

On New Year’s Day 2009, Mehserle shot the 22-year-old Oscar Grant in the back while he lay face down on a BART train platform. Grant, who had his arms behind his back when Mehserle shot him, was unarmed.

The three-week murder trial ended last week and the verdict came quickly. Subtracting time for the July 4th holiday and juror illnesses, the jury deliberated together for just under nine hours. Mehserle was convicted on Thursday afternoon of involuntary manslaughter, the least serious of the three charges he faced. The jury’s verdict included a gun-crime sentencing enhancement, which carries the possibility of additional jail time.

“The verdict was not what we wanted and it’s very painful at this time to even talk about the verdict and how it came back,” Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson said. “But we believe this battle is not over. [Ex-BART cop and fellow arresting officer] Tony Pirone has a debt to pay. Johannes Mehserle has a debt to pay. And if Johannes Mehserle’s debt don’t be paid according to the system, there is a higher moral justice that he will pay to.”

Oscar Grant’s family, who appeared exhausted and angry at its press conference, remained firm in their belief that Mehserle’s actions that night constituted murder. They voiced concerns that the jury acted too swiftly – there were dozens of pieces of evidence and five cell phone videos from that night to review during the short time jurors deliberated. Grant’s uncle said that the verdict was far too quick for the seriousness of the charges.

Indeed, news of the verdict caught many people off guard. Family and media had just an hour’s notice about the verdict’s announcement before the courtroom was sealed. Johnson, who wore a full suit to court every day, was caught today in a Kangol hat and a t-shirt; he could not even get inside the courtroom to hear the verdict.

“We recognize as African Americans, the system is rarely fair when police officers are involved in the shooting of African American males,” the Grant family’s attorney, John Burris said. “This is another example of that.”

Burris, who is representing the Grant family in a $25 million civil suit against BART, argued nonetheless that today’s verdict was also historic. “In my long history being involved in police matters since 1979 and well over 30 homicides with police, never have I had a case when a police officer was convicted of any crime against an African American male.”

Sentencing Mehserle

The family is looking now toward Mehserle’s sentencing, which will take place on Aug. 6. At that time, the family will have the opportunity to make a victim impact statement that they hope Judge Robert Perry will take into account when issuing the jail sentence. Mehserle faces a two- to four-year term for just the involuntary manslaughter, but up to an additional 10 years for the gun enhancement. It’s unclear how the two convictions square, however, since the gun enhancement requires a shooter to have fired a gun intentionally.

Either way, many in Oakland are outraged that the jury accepted Mehserle’s defense that the shooting was an accident. “The law has not held the officer accountable the way he should have been held accountable,” Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson said at the press conference. She urged “other families who might go through this” not to give up, and to have faith in God, who would never fail anyone – even though the criminal justice system might continue to disappoint.

Julianne is a RaceWire co-editor and the editorial assistant at ColorLines, where this story first appeared.

11 thoughts on “Oscar Grant’s mother: ‘My son was murdered!’

  1. Mark Linear

    wow Rhonda take a look at this crap gurl..straight murder murder murder…damn shame kill that kid for nothing..because hes homeless? make no sense I'm outraged.

  2. eddy

    one day the black people will wake up and stop putting up with dumb shit
    how come you never hear about a white person getting shoot by cops
    if you are a young person of color you are walking around with a bulls eye on your back

  3. Rosie

    Wanda Johnson needed to spend less time talking to Jesus and more time raising a law abiding, decent human being for a son. All those men that stood behind her at the press conference….why weren't they there to help Oscar become a decent young man?

    1. Ms. O

      Jesus is the answer for all the world today, and His love is infinite. He has created all humanbeings and allowed us to be born in his own image. But ask yourself, did your mother and father raise you to be a decent daughter, and are you perfect? Are you the most intelligent and perfect person that God has ever created? But more importantatly, where is your passion and empathy for people in this world? We live in a world with a lot of pain and sadness, and the media, facebook, blogs, et cetera, enhances and intensifies the negativity and creates more sensitive issues. go out and get involved in some organization that needs help in providing services in your community. There is a need for children, the elderly, our military families, the disabled, the lonely and forgotten.

      Thanks and with sincerity,

      1. Rosie

        My parents did raise me to be decent and I am. I am not perfect, but I was not commenting on perfect. I am involved in education and help children and their families every day. Do some research and look at Oscar Grant's background and what HE did and inflicted on others. His actions in no way should suggest that murder was the answer, but clearly his upbringing contributed to his downfall. Your Jesus answer is a cop-out Ms. O. At some point, we (including Oscar) are responsible for our own actions. Oscar made a long series of bad choices and eventually ended up where he was on that night.

        1. Ms. O

          Rosie, I in no way tried to demean your comments and truly commend you for being decent and educating children and their families. I too am decent and would never use Jesus as a cop-out. I have no experience in using anyone, not my character. As an officer of the court over 30 years, I need not research Oscar Grant, because I have been involved in thousands of trials: juveniles, criminal murder and rapes of babies to adults, white collar crimes. Bad choices made and they paid. Perpetrators and victims come from quality families, doesn't matter if they are taught good values. Through it all, have learned to pray and be passionate. No one wins in these situations is what I wish to express. Take care and hope you continue to do a great job.

  4. lisa

    Rosie what your past got to do with you getting harm. the lord give you many chances to confess your sins at anytime how u know when Oscar talk to the Lord. So you say a man can,t change? I hate it when people say “thats what he get” so how did education fell the man that kill Oscar. And a black man life is still not worth anything, the man will get at most 10 years. Educate them on that. even if that black man gets a college degree if he gets killed by a white man the white man still get shorter time than a black man, educate them on the fairness that need to be practice everywhere. I to am in educattion so what.

  5. Racquitta Taylor

    Hi Mrs. Grant, my name is Racquitta Taylor I live in San Francisco and my son was killed on 12.2.10 on Visitacion st. in San Francisco his name is Roderick Donelson and he had just turned 18 on 10.2.10. I know now the pain you feel everday and every min. It's a pain that will never leave your heart or your minded. I have giving the SFPD homicide detectives the name and the where abouts of the young man who shot my son but, still no arrest. Mrs.Grant I hope you have a somewhat of a year but, feeling as i do and waking up ever day with an broken heart, the years will never be happy again. Racquitta Taylor


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