On Sept. 19, a 72-year-old woman was brutally stabbed in front of the Berkeley Zen Center in South Berkeley in a botched carjacking. For several days she lay in the hospital sedated and unresponsive, with irreparable brain damage. Because of this, her family decided to take her off life support. Two-and-a-half weeks after the attack, she died.

I keep waiting for the outrage. After all, when a slashing happened at the scenic North Berkeley Rose Garden in 2005, it was a big news story even though the victim didn’t suffer life-threatening injuries. With this stabbing, media coverage has been minimal and neither the school district or city officials have offered any statement, condolences, apology, or even concern for those affected. It’s just business as usual in South Berkeley.

It’s easy to throw our hands up and say “these things happen.” But in the weeks following this event, I’ve come to believe that tragedies like these can be prevented.

But this requires accountability from our officials and action from average people.

Otherwise, it will just continue to be business as usual in South Berkeley.

South Berkeley is home to many of the city’s mental health services and transitional homes, a methadone clinic, and a high school for troubled youth. On top of this, there are 40 fewer police on the force than four years ago. This has many repercussions, such as no foot or bicycle patrols.

How do we adjust to these realities? Housing prices are rising; higher property taxes mean that new homeowners are contributing to the city financially, and we should demand more from our elected officials and neighbors in four areas:

City government

The Berkeley Police do an excellent job with limited resources. Their quick response and extensive training saved the victim’s life and captured the perpetrator.

However, we need communication between the police and neighborhood groups to identify and prioritize problems. Berkeley uses the SARA model (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment), which is considered the standard across for problem-oriented policing and is recommended for municipalities by The Department of Justice.

However, there has been resistance by city government to proactively implement this framework, which has worked well in other cities — when it’s properly supported.

What you can do: Reach out to your Area Coordinator to set up monthly meetings to collaborate with the BPD for data-driven, community-oriented policing. Email clerk@ci.berkeley.ca.us to send a message to all council members, the mayor, and the city manager asking for more BPD support for this; email your individual councilperson to set up a meeting. Demand funding for more police officers. Ask about this recent incident, and what their specific efforts will be in making South Berkeley safer moving forward. If they blow you off or send you a form letter, keep trying.

BART surveillance and safety

Ashby BART is a hotspot for crime. BART has agreed publicly and privately to install surveillance, but they claim financing is delaying the progress. This has been going on since a 2010 murder on the east side of BART. It seems obvious that surveillance cameras at BART and on the perimeter would help to reduce crime.

What you can do: Press city officials for the installation of surveillance in and around BART, as well as adequate lighting for surrounding streets. Encourage the Berkeley Police Department and city government to continue Berkeley-BART police patrols to suppress crime.


BUSD accountability

The perpetrator of this crime attended Berkeley Tech, a BUSD school. The police confirmed that he lived in Richmond. School Board member Karen Hemphill confirmed he lived in Berkeley, while another, Julie Sinai, said the student was homeless when he enrolled. Who is telling the truth?

If he did live in Richmond, BUSD must be held accountable for this. By having out-of- county and out-of-district students with a known history of violence fraudulently enrolled in Berkeley Schools, South Berkeley is essentially importing violent individuals — paid for by Berkeley residents.

Even if he was a Berkeley resident, BUSD still needs to explain itself. How are school officials supervising probated youth? Was he on probation in Contra Costa County? If so, why aren’t they using their own solid community programs to help troubled youth?

What you can do: Write a letter and/or ask for a meeting with the Berkeley School Board, Superintendent Evans, and Susan Craig, Ed.D., Director, Student Services, asking for transparency, accountability, and for specific ways they will deal with enrollment fraud and supervise students on probation moving forward.


Community building

Of course, it’s important to take responsibility for the safety of our community.

What you can do: Contact your Area Coordinator and do a walk-around safety survey, where you identify environmental conditions that foster crime and social disorder. Know your neighbors and beat cops. Call 311, the city reporting number, for illegal dumping, abandoned or blighted property, and trash. For use in emergencies with a cellphone, program 981-5911 in your phone. Call 981-5900, the police non-emergency number, for quality of life issues such as public drinking, trespassing, loud music, and abandoned cars. Always make a call if you see something that needs to be addressed; the city’s resources go to the communities who ask. Show that our community cares by keeping yards tended, neighborhoods free of litter, graffiti and flyers.

Crime leaves much anguish in its wake for everyone involved. I know, because my family has been directly affected by violent crime in South Berkeley. The repercussions are far-reaching, and nothing has been the same from that moment forward. Sometimes I want to just stay inside; other times I want to move away forever. But stronger than this hardening of the heart is the desire to make something good from this heartbreak. Can we do it? It’s up to us.

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Nora Isaacs is a writer, editor, and author who lives in South Berkeley.
Nora Isaacs is a writer, editor, and author who lives in South Berkeley.