Los Angeles has Rodney King. New York has Sean Bell. Every generation and every major city has their own story–a man of color attacked by the police who becomes a symbol of brutality. A young man’s name which reverberates around the country as communities take to the streets, quaking with rage, searching for justice. On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant became Oakland’s latest symbol of police violence.
His killing–Grant was shot in the back by a transit cop named Johannes Mehserle–was caught on multiple cell phone cameras and uploaded onto YouTube and ignited several days of protests in the East Bay, and more than a year of organizing as Mehserle became the first police officer in California to be charged with homicide for an on-duty shooting.
To begin the long process of healing, the Media Alliance and the quarterly journal Race, Poverty and the Environment joined together to collect visual art, songs and poetry dedicated to Grant. They called the project the Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project, and collected more than three dozen videos, songs and posters.
The project’s organizers explained the collection of work:
Some of this is compelling art, some is ephemera. Some of this art is controversial in its subject matter or its expression, but above all this art is the expression of a critical moment in the movement to end police violence.
The above graffiti art, credited to an artist who goes by the name Weapons of Mass Expression, went up in Oakland in 2009 during one of the largest protests organized by Oscar Grant supporters. The artist spread out his spray cans while thousands marched from City Hall to the Alameda County courthouse. As protesters filed past, some beating drums and yelling chants, most walking solemnly in black down the police-lined streets, artists were spray painting the wooden canvases of boarded up shops. People would stop to admire and snap photos. Many stood hugging in front of the art, holding onto each other while they took in the mural’s creation. The memory of that amazing moment is today’s love.
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