OAKLAND (CBS SF) – More than 10 years after Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by a police officer at the Fruitvale BART station, BART’s Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday morning to name a street near the station after him.
Grant was killed in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2009, in one of the first police killings caught on camera by a smartphone in the hands of a nearby witness. He was in a prone position, held down on his stomach by police, when former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot him in the back.
Mehserle, who said he meant to use his Taser stun gun and instead fired his gun by mistake, was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.
“Oftentimes we instruct our children to do things and … when I instructed Oscar to take BART, he did what he was instructed to do,” Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother, told the board at the meeting.
“Never did I imagine that I would receive a phone call that he had been shot,” Johnson said. “And not only had he been shot, but he had been shot by someone that my parents had always taught us to respect.”
Johnson also called on the board to work to make BART safer for all its passengers.
The shooting, as well as the involuntary manslaughter sentence, sparked national outrage and helped to spur reforms and activist movements like Black Lives Matter over the past decade.
Desley Brooks, formerly of the Oakland City Council, spoke during public comment at the meeting about the long period of time that passed before the BART board finally took action to memorialize Grant.
“It is somewhat shocking that 10 years went by, and the family had requested that something be named after Oscar, and nothing was done,” Brooks said.
“The naming of this street should be the first step,” she said, adding that the board should also move to name Fruitvale station after Grant.
After a lengthy public comment period, the board took action, with Director Robert Raburn addressing the audience first and making the motion to name a short, unnamed section of roadway connecting 33rd Avenue to 35th Avenue near the Fruitvale station “Oscar Grant III Way.”
Director Lateefah Simon, the board’s only black member, spoke next, thanking Johnson for her efforts to spark reform in the wake of her son’s death.
“When you speak, I weep, because I don’t feel that many people in the world possess the strength that you do,” Simon said.
“The killing of Oscar Grant fundamentally changed the conversation in this nation, because you didn’t let him die,” Simon said.
Simon seconded Raburn’s motion, prompting applause in the audience. The remaining members of the board all spoke in favor of the motion before them, with the exception of Director Debora Allen, who was absent. The motion carried unanimously, prompting further applause.
BART staff were not immediately available to provide details about when the name change will go into effect, or when signage could be erected.
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