HAYWARD — The family of Oscar Grant III made their first public protest appearance at a demonstration in their hometown, urging supporters to "continue to rally, continue to march, but do it in peace."
About 120 people participated in the event, held on what would have been Grant's 23rd birthday. It included a march around downtown that ended in front of City Hall, where family members and activists spoke in front of a large painting of Grant holding his daughter.
"These rallies make it clear that there is so much support for Oscar, and it tells us that Oscar didn't die in vain," said his uncle, Cephus Johnson.
Grant was shot and killed Jan. 1 by BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station in Oakland. Images of the shooting — captured by rail passengers' cell phone cameras and released to the media — helped spark a huge public outcry about how Grant was treated. Mehserle has since resigned from the force, been arrested and charged, and awaits further legal action.
A speaker led the crowd in call-and-reply chants: "Justice! Now!" "Boycott! BART!" and "Happy! Birthday!"
Family members and organizers from By Any Means Necessary are urging a weekend boycott of BART to protest how the case has been handled. Demonstrators also plan to block access to the Fruitvale BART station during rush hour Thursday.
The event culminated with the release of a few dozen balloons following a "Happy birthday to you" singalong, as well as a prayer.
Oakland attorney John Burris, who represents Grant's family in a $25 million lawsuit against BART, said Grant represents "everyone's child."
"I have a 22-year-old son, and this is a worst nightmare," he said. "This has touched a nerve amongst parents, and anyone with a brother or sister. You can do all you can to tell them to keep out of danger, but at the end of the day, there are forces out of your control."
Hayward police officers were out in large numbers, some wearing riot helmets and most carrying yardlong batons. But the night played out without any significant incidents, police Lt. Chris Orrey said.
"There were no arrests, no vandalism, no problems with businesses," Orrey said. "The organizers did a great job getting the message out to keep it peaceful."
Grant's aunt, Cookie Johnson, said that's what her nephew would have wanted.
"We are peaceful people," she said. "We just want to see justice done."