Community members filled the hall at Frances Albrier Community Center on Aug. 28 to discuss gun violence in the neighborhood. Photo: Lance Knobel

At a community meeting Tuesday night, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said that of the 15 shootings in the city so far this year, BPD believes 10 are gang-related. Mayor Jesse Arreguín said gun violence was “unacceptable.”

Police believe 10 of the 15 shootings in Berkeley so far in 2018 are gang-related.

Residents from the South Berkeley neighborhood around San Pablo Park packed the Frances Albrier Community Center following an afternoon shooting Saturday, Aug. 18, that injured three men, and terrified scores of park users. They heard presentations from the mayor and chief, as well as local Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, interim Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen, Pastor Michael McBride from The Way Christian Center, and Sam Vaughn, who leads the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond.

“I was horrified and very saddened to hear of the shooting,” Arreguín said. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a shooting occurred in this neighborhood in recent years. It’s unacceptable. South and West Berkeley deserve as much attention as any part of our city.”

The mayor outlined four points he thought could help: installation of security cameras in the park, an environmental design assessment focused on crime prevention, exploring increased police patrols around San Pablo Park, funded through overtime, and encouraging greater usage of the park. The city is already committed to $2.5 million in park improvements.

Arreguín also said the city was working to increase the number of police in Berkeley: “Ultimately, my goal is to increase patrols,” he said.

In addition to Greenwood, many Berkeley police officers were at the meeting and mentions of them frequently brought applause from the attendees.

“This is a system problem and I don’t have all the answers, but I have some ideas to explore,” Davila said. She said, when she first came to the area 36 years ago, “this problem was much worse.”

McBride, who is national director of the Live Free campaign, said “violence in any form is unacceptable.” But he said it was a “flawed presupposition” to think that hiring more police would solve the problem.

“We have to allow our values to lead the response to violence.” — Pastor Michael McBride

“We need our leadership in our city at every level to move away from strategies that depend solely on crime suppression, which is a strategy out of the law-and-order book of Jeff Sessions and his Department of Justice,” McBride said. “We have to allow our values to lead the response to violence. We know that violence has its root causes in poverty and criminalization of our communities.”

McBride pointed to significant reductions in homicide in neighboring Oakland thanks to efforts like Operation Ceasefire. In Richmond, he said violence was down 70% in less than four years thanks to similar programs.

Vaughn, from Richmond, echoed McBride.

“I believe we can end gun violence,” he said. “There are young people across this city that need to be seen. We don’t see them until they make us see them. Because we’ve ignored this problem for decades, this is where we are.”

Police Chief Greenwood said he rejected “binary” views that suggest community programs are the answer or that more police are the answer. However Berkeley, in his view, is starting from a particularly low point in terms of police numbers.

“I’m in favor of these kinds of programs,” he said. “But I want to get us back to our authorized level so we can do some things, like get back to bike patrol. My issue literally is resource.”

The police chief went on to provide information on the Aug. 18 shooting.

“Our detectives have been working on this case very actively,” he said. “I’m very confident that they will determine ultimately who was involved and bring accountability to that.”

He said detectives and officers continue to work “doggedly,” “even if we have victims who are not necessarily cooperating.”

Greenwood said BPD thinks 10 of the 15 shootings in Berkeley so far in 2018 are “gang-related in one shape or form.” BPD and the city have traditionally been reluctant to talk about gangs.

In the lengthy public comment that followed, constant themes were the continuing violence in the neighborhood, often attributed to gangs, a lack of resources for young people, and the changing nature of the local community.

Scott Blake, ceasefire coordinator at Community & Youth Outreach in Oakland, and a South Berkeley resident, echoed McBride’s encouragement of violence-reduction strategies. But he said the nature of the neighborhood was also an issue.

“I have neighbors on my block that won’t say hello to me,” he said. “You really need to start embracing your neighborhood, your neighbors.”

Lorenzo Grayson, founder of Berkeley Jr. Jackets Football & Cheer, said when he was growing up police used to be more involved in the local community.

“Berkeley used to have a big slab foundation,” Grayson said. “That foundation has been broken up.”

“I have neighbors on my block that won’t say hello to me. You really need to start embracing your neighborhood.”
— Scott Blake

Local resident Denisha DeLane echoed Grayson on the lack of police involvement in the community.

“We don’t see anyone tossing a ball out here with these kids who don’t have anything,” DeLane said. She said it was also important to understand that “Oakland’s problems are Berkeley’s problems are Richmond’s problems.” She urged “shooting-activated” cameras on the freeways “so we can catch real perpetrators of crime who zip in and out of our communities.”

Josh Buswell-Charkow, a neighborhood resident for 10 years, said he doesn’t think it’s safe to bring his kids to the park.

“It’s a park and I’m scared to bring them,” he said. “What is the city going to do to bring up the staffing (of the police)? What are you going to do to support our police? I think you guys have been nothing but role models as far as police.”

“I second your support of our police,” Arreguín said. “I think we have one of the most progressive and forward-thinking police departments in the country.”

Several public commenters noted that they had attended a similar community meeting after a fatal shooting near the park two years ago. What would make this time different, they asked.

“If we don’t work on this,” Arreguín said, “you know how to hold us accountable.”

Garland Albert Sr., father of the 25-year-old man who was most seriously wounded in the Aug. 18 shooting, also spoke.

“I want to thank Berkeley police,” he said. “An ambulance didn’t come in time. The officer helped my son survive his gunshot wounds.

“My family believe nobody in Berkeley did it,” he went on. “I know everybody… Let’s hope we can get back to being the Berkeley we once were.”

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...