By Nina Kalirai
Police brutality has been an issue long before social media allowed for video evidence to become viral, bringing awareness to people around the world, and starting activist movements such as Black Lives Matter.
You can find Part 1 of this interview series here.
In part II of the interview, VIBE TALKS Correspondent Nina Kalirai speaks to Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle, in Oakland, California on New Year’s Day in 2009.
We continue our discussion on media coverage, police accountability of cases similar to that of Oscar Grant and the founding of the Oscar Grant Foundation.
Nina: Throughout the years we’ve unfortunately had many cases similar to Oscar’s occur, such as Mike (Michael) Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice just to name a few. Do you think the outcome of these cases have become better or worse overtime, in terms of media coverage and police accountability?
Wanda: I think the outcome as far as media coverage has become better. The negative about the media coverage, that has often been faced, is the demonization of those individuals. That is one of the things that we really want to work to change. If a victim is killed, we shouldn’t just target it as the victim’s fault, but really have that heart to know that someone has lost somebody who they loved. I want to say that, Oscar’s case was one of the first cases in California history where an on-duty officer has been charged with an on-duty shooting, and convicted for involuntary manslaughter. It was not the verdict we would have hoped for. We would have hoped for a stronger verdict; however, it is a start. He ended up only serving 11 months in the county jail. We have to, as a society, ensure that officers are held accountable for their actions when it is found that the type of force they took, should not have been taken.
Nina: It’s 2013. A movie telling Oscar’s story, directed by Ryan Coogler, called Fruitvale Station is released. How accurate was the movie in depicting Oscar’s story and how much of say did you, along with the rest of the family, have in it?
Wanda: The movie, I would say, was 95% accurate. I had a say in the movie. I actually had a cameo appearance in the movie as well. We were with Ryan and the team throughout the movie. We spent time with Ryan, Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer and they spent time with us, asking us questions. We had a say in the movie, of what we wanted in and what we didn’t want in it. They did a very good job portraying Oscar’s life. Michael B. Jordan did a great job playing Oscar, and Octavia Spencer did a very good job playing my life. We’re very satisfied at the outcome of the movie.
Nina: How effective would you say Fruitvale Station was in getting the story about Oscar across and helping the cause of the Oscar Grant Foundation?
Wanda: I think Fruitvale Station was very effective. I believe it still needs to be watched by a lot more people. I believe that it has a lasting impact on those that watch it. You will not leave the theatre the same way you went in that theatre. I believe it causes you to think. It causes a great deal of emotions. You will laugh, you will cry, you will be angry. Many different emotions will arrive. Part of the foundation’s goal for our youth today, is to work with our youth who are in areas where they may be struggling.
Nina: How and when did the Oscar Grant Foundation come to be?
Wanda: The Oscar Grant Foundation came to be in 2010. A year after Oscar was killed. Our goal is to bridge the gap between the community and police officers. There are several ways that we work to do that. We invite police officers to our events, to talk with the community, and to get to know the community that they police. Oscar also loved sports. So we formed the Oscar Grant O.G. Ballers, which currently now has 30-35 youth on the teams that we have. We have five different teams. We go across California and other states to play in basketball tournaments. We do this regularly, and we have been doing it for the past few years. We were also able to give $35 000 worth of scholarships away this past year. We hope to be able to do that again. We are striving to work with our youth, not just by giving them things, but we want them to have the tools for success as they become adults and for their educational skills, as well as their life skills.
Nina: What is your role within the Oscar Grant Foundation?
Wanda: Currently, I am the CEO, head of the foundation. I work with other volunteers of the foundation, who help us to ensure that our youth are cared for and to help up educate adults that we encounter. One of the things that we do yearly, is an Oscar Grant Legacy Weekend, which will be coming up in February. We host mothers and fathers form all over the United States who’ve lost loved ones. At that time, we encourage them, support them and work with them to try to help them understand the system.
Nina: Where can listeners go for more information about the Oscar Grant Foundation and to help the cause?
Wanda: We would love the help. You can go to the Oscar Grant website. You can look us up and send any questions straight through that website.
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