OAKLAND, Calif. - Following a year of increased violence and crime, calls for police reform, protests, and police shootings, an annual vigil was held for Oscar Grant III in Oakland, 13 years since he was shot in the back by a police officer.
Family, friends, neighbors and community leaders joined together at the Fruitvale BART station Saturday, demanding accountability, healing and a renewed effort to prevent police violence through community engagement, educational programs, and training.
"We still have a long way in our communities to go to make sure justice is served for all mankind," Wanda Johnson said, standing in front of a mural of her late son, Oscar Grant. "We have to bring the level of accountability up higher."
It was New Year’s Day 2009, when Grant, 22, was unarmed and shot and killed on the Fruitvale station platform by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, who claimed he pulled out his gun instead of his taser. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
A similar case played out in Minneapolis in 2021, where police officer Kim Potter said she confused her gun for her taser, killing Daunte Wright. She was convicted of manslaughter last month and could face seven years in jail.
Johnson said all aspects of officers’ training should be routine and frequent.
"We have to look at the policies and procedures in place and tear them down and begin to rebuild them," she said.
California has made some progress.
Police use of force and some officer misconduct records can no longer be kept secret under SB 1421. Some departments have implemented additional training. And a new law, SB 2 allows the state to decertify officers for serious misconduct, including wrongfully killing civilians, preventing them from getting rehired.
Other high-profile police killings have brought about additional reforms and repeated calls for legislation.
Several advocates spoke at the vigil about the importance of mentoring youth, improving mental health, and holding city leaders accountable.
"We have to find a way to get a seat at the table and help when these policies are being written to make sure they are equitable," Pastor Tommy Smith said. "We have to make sure that they are fair, make sure that they are inclusive, and make sure that we have a voice there."
It comes following a large increase in crime in Oakland including shootings, assaults, robberies and burglaries. Oakland Police tallied 134 homicides for the year, the most in more than a decade.
The department said it is committed to addressing a rise in violent crimes, and it is focused on prevention strategies and initiatives to develop relationships with community members.
Some victims’ families affected by the violence spoke at the vigil and said it’s up to the community to do better – stand up, get involved, and know your neighbors.
"We have to make a conscious effort to make our city a safer place," Brenda Grisham, whose son, Christopher LaVell Jones was killed by gun violence 11 years ago said. "We can’t keep expecting everybody else to do it for us. We have to step in."