Almost 10 years ago, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in Oakland, Calif., on New Year’s Eve. With the anniversary of his death approaching, Grant’s family is asking for BART and the city of Oakland to recognize him by renaming the station where he was killed.
According to KGO-TV, Grant’s family pleaded with BART’s board of directors last week to name the Fruitvale station after him. It would be an act of memorial in a country that far too frequently fails to memorialize the most painful, most divisive, and most traumatic events for marginalized communities.
“It would be an atonement, it would be part of BART saying yes this happened here, we vow that it won’t happen again and we vow to work with the communities and ensure that all people are treated equally,” Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, said.
Grant’s death resonated across the nation. It was caught on video—one of the first such viral documentations of a black man’s death—running thousands of times on TV channels and social media networks across the country (Trayvon Martin would die three years later in Florida at the hands of George Zimmerman—the 911 audio of his death similarly played in an endless loop).
In the video, BART cops pull Grant away from a group of other black men, put him on his stomach, and handcuff him. Not long after, Officer Johannes Mehserle pulls out his gun and shoots Grant dead. Mehserle served less than two years for involuntary manslaughter.
But as KGO-TV reports, the renaming of the station is unlikely, with BART officials saying they can’t change their policy of naming stations after their location. A BART spokesperson confirmed that a mural honoring Grant at Fruitvale station has been commissioned; it’s currently in planning stages. Grant’s family has also requested that a side street at Fruitvale be named after their loved one—BART has referred that request to the city of Oakland.
A public memorial to Grant is certainly warranted, given the abuse of power that led to his killing and given the ways his public execution helped galvanize a country around police brutality, particularly as it impacts black communities. Memorials are sites of collective memory—a way of visually demarcating a community’s icons, its values, its history. But even more discouraging than the lack of a public landmark is how very little has changed in the institutions that caused Grant’s death. This year, a report found that more than half of BART use-of-force incidents in 2017 involved black men.
Black people made up just 12 percent of BART ridership in 2015.