Seal Lolis prepares his barbecues Friday morning for The Bootstrapper’s lunch crowd on Sacramento Street. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Seal Lolis prepares his barbecues Friday morning for The Bootstrapper’s lunch crowd on Sacramento Street. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

It was a normal-seeming morning on Sacramento Street on Friday, 14 hours after a man had been murdered on nearby Oregon Street.

Mothers pushed children strapped in their strollers. A man bought two cans of frosty Colt 45 beer and a quarter pint of cognac at Bob’s Liquors. Two young men rapped on the metal gate leading to Perfect Plant Patient’s Group, a medical cannabis collective.

Seal Lolis, the owner of Bootstrapper, a southern style restaurant on Sacramento, lit up the charcoal in the two barbecues right outside his bright red gate. Fridays are barbecue days at the Bootstrapper, and Lolis was getting ready to cook the ribs, links and chicken his regular customers look forward to.

Lolis had been just yards away from the 7:34 pm shooting on Thursday. He was working in his restaurant and heard the shots, but stayed inside. He has been operating a business on Sacramento Street for three years, but cannot remember another time there have been so many gun battles.

The Thursday shooting came as two men left Bob’s Liquors and were confronted by a crowd of men on the corner, one of whom had a gun and started shooting. The two men fled. One was not injured, but the other was hit and fell down on Oregon Street. Police arrested a suspect about an hour later.

On Monday, March 26, shots were fired around 1 p.m. on the corner of Russell and Sacramento streets. On Dec. 23, a group of three young men pulled out weapons on Sacramento near Woolsey and fired at two other, who retaliated with their own guns (see map below for details on the four shootings this month in Berkeley).

Lolis believes the bad economy and Republican willingness to help out corporations, but not average people, is one reason there have been so many shootings recently.

“A lot of these guys, if they had jobs, they would go home,” he said. “They would be too tired to hang out.”

View Recent major crimes in Berkeley in a larger map. The placemarks are clickable for more information.

As Lolis prepared the barbecue, a 44-year-old man named Willie walked by and greeted him. Willie had grown up on California and Ashby but moved to San Rafael in 2011. He said his parents had come to Berkeley from the South and taught him that working hard was important to success – a message that seems to have been lost.

“You have to work until you get something,” said Willie, who asked that his last name not be used. “Now the kids they think fast money and then they say it’s the white man. I know times are hard but don’t let that discourage you.”

For Ali Ahmed, a UC Berkeley employee who occasionally works at Bob’s Liquors, the site of Thursday’s shooting, the recent escalation of violence is frightening.

“I’m scared,” he said. “I’m scared to stay in this store. We are scared in this area, especially Sacramento Street. This area is bad all the time. People are scared to go outside now.”

Berkeley police have not yet released the name of the murder victim, nor the name of the Berkeley man they arrested in connection with the shooting around 8:30 p.m. But many people in the area believe there must have been a drug connection.

“It’s got to be drug related,” said a man who asked not to be identified. He works at Rosewood Manor on Oregon Street, which he described as an apartment complex that was the center of drug activity and street violence for years, but is now a safe place. “Most of these kids are trigger happy until after the fact. They get arrested and their mamas can’t bail them out. They think that shit [shooting] is cool in front of their peers.”

A former nurse who lives at Oregon Park, a senior complex adjacent to where the young man was killed, said the people involved with the crime had run through the complex after the shooting. Her grandson was returning home from San Francisco and had to walk right by the victim’s body. She did not want to give her name because if the local drug dealers knew she was talking, she could be in danger.

“My attitude is if someone will take a life, they will kill you without even thinking about it.”

The woman has lived in the neighborhood for five years and frequently takes walks around. She mostly feels safe, except when she is on Sacramento Street, she said.

“If I hit the lotto tonight, you wouldn’t see me again.”

Amelia Glynn only moved into the area a month ago and walks her dog Alice frequently.

“I like living in a mixed neighborhood, but shootings are not good,” said Glynn. “I don’t feel like a target but if I am in the wrong place at the wrong time, well you don’t have control of that.”

The Berkeley Police Department is urging anyone who may know anything about this homicide to call the BPD Homicide Detail at (510) 981-5741 or the 24 hour BPD non emergency number of (510) 981-5900. If a community member wishes to remain anonymous, he/she is encouraged to call the Bay Area Crimes Stoppers (BACS) at (800)-222-TIPS (8477). Any information may be critical to solving this crime. Sometimes the smallest or seemingly insignificant detail can be the key to an arrest and prosecution of the suspect or suspects in any crime.

Sacramento Street shooting victim dies, arrest made [03.30.12]
Shooting on Sacramento and Oregon, victim wounded [03.29.12]
No known injuries in Monday shooting on Russell [03.18.12]
Dec. 23 shooting involved five men with guns [03.07.12]

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...