Rev. Toni Dunbar comforts Cephus Johnson, right, uncle of Oscar Grant, and Jack Bryson, father of Oscar's friend Jack Bryson Jr.
Calls for “courageous conversation,” appropriate outrage and love – even when love is inconvenient - rang from the chapel at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley Thursday night when the school and five Bay Area churches held a memorial service for the late Oscar Grant.
The shooting death of the young, unarmed Grant by former a BART transit officer and the verdict handed down this month by a Los Angeles jury convicting that officer, Johannes Mehserle, of involuntary manslaughter have rightfully stirred outrage, said Rev. Dr. Toni Dunbar, a minister at City of Refuge Church in San Francisco. But she called for channeling that outrage into constructive action and conversations about race and justice.
Mehserle was indicted for murder in June 2009 by an Alameda County Judge for shooting and killing Grant on Jan.1, 2009, while Grant lay face down, handcuffed and unarmed, on a BART platform. A jury trial conducted in Los Angeles Superior Court this summer wrapped up July 8 with the jury finding Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter but not murder.
“Outrage in the face of injustice is appropriate,” Dunbar said. “There is no Biblical model for disengagement.” She and others called on churches to get involved in local peace and justice initiatives about race.
Prayers and dance were punctuated by the mournful words of Grant’s uncle Cephus “Bobby” Johnson.
“I was Uncle Bobby to Oscar,” he said. “We are a Christian family, we are a forgiving family,” who nonetheless finds it hard to begin to forgive Mehserle because he never expressed an apology or condolence to the Grant family.
“Sadly to say it’s been 20 months that he has not, nor has his family, apologized to us,” Johnson said referring to Mehserle. He said Mehserle’s only apology was the July 2010 letter Mehserle released to the public through his attorney. If he had apologized to the family, Johnson said, the burden of forgiveness “would reside on us.”
But Johnson also said his family has been in prayer and was grateful for the occasion to pray with others.
“My sister and I myself have been praying for this kind of thing to happen,” he said of the service.
The Mehserle verdict, said Rev. Byron Williams of Oakland’s Resurrection Community church, is not the end of the story about Grant and police brutality any more than Nelson Mandela’s sentence to life in prison was the end of his story and his struggle against apartheid.
Rather, now is a time calling for “inconvenient love,” Williams told the 80 or so people assembled at the chapel. He said it’s time to get involved with compassion, care and concern for people needing justice even though the moment may be inconvenient and we come from different backgrounds.
Johnson advocated a letter writing campaign to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, who presided over the jury trial, telling him “what you think the sentencing should be.”
Mehserle is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 5.
Along with Pacific School of Religion, the service was co-sponsored by the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, Tapestry Ministries of Berkeley and Oakland, First Congregational Church of Berkeley and New Spirit Community Church in Berkeley.