A memorial for Sereinat’e Henderson at Prince and Ellis streets, Oct. 27, 2020. Photo: Karen Folger Jacobs
A memorial for Sereinat’e Henderson at Prince and Ellis streets, Oct. 27, 2020. Photo: Karen Folger Jacobs

Citing an “alarming rise in shootings” this year, the City Council pledged Tuesday night to work to create a new Ceasefire program designed to “address gun violence” in Berkeley.

Already in 2020, four people have been killed and at least 10 have been wounded in more than 30 Berkeley shootings, according to a Berkeleyside analysis. Last year, one person was killed and three people were wounded.

The most recent death, of Sereinat’e Henderson, a pregnant Berkeley mother of a 10-month-old boy, hit the community particularly hard. There was also an outcry earlier in the year when Seth Smith, a 19-year-old UC Berkeley student, was shot to death during a nighttime stroll in an unprovoked attack.

On Tuesday night, Councilmember Ben Bartlett said the idea behind the new Ceasefire program would be to identify the people most likely to engage in violent behavior and “surround them in circles of care” that would include drug treatment, job training and the help of skilled, compassionate social workers.

“There’s only a few people that are willing to commit homicide,” Bartlett said. “There’s not an abundant army out there of people who are ready to kill.”

Bartlett said the program would be a “data-driven approach to preventing gun violence” and that the city needs to focus more on the prevention side of the public safety equation.

Many people — officials and community members alike — lauded Bartlett for bringing the proposal forward so quickly. He crafted it as an urgency item in response to Henderson’s killing one week ago on Prince Street.

According to the item, the city will look to assemble “a Berkeley-centered interjurisdictional working group of community members, law enforcement personnel, and supportive services providers to address gun violence.”

The group would work together with similar violence prevention programs already underway in nearby cities, including Oakland and Richmond.

According to Bartlett’s item, which was co-sponsored by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and council members Rashi Kesarwani and Kate Harrison — the “Group Violence Intervention” program will involve the Berkeley Black Ecumenical Ministerial Alliance and other community partners, such as the relatives of people who have been killed, survivors of violence and former offenders themselves, street outreach workers and police.

Kesarwani said she was optimistic about seeing a program like Ceasefire in Berkeley.

“It’s about investing in communities like young men of color who have historically not received the investment,” she said. “It’s about social and community services instead of over-policing.”

During public comment, one local resident said various community members had been asking for a program like this for years. Another asked if Berkeley could become part of Oakland’s existing Ceasefire program to make the effort more efficient and effective.

Another speaker told officials she had known Henderson, the young woman who was killed last week, from their South Berkeley church. On Monday, she added, she had gone to pay her respects at the family home, then later received word there had been a daytime shooting on the block.

“That was scary to me,” she said. “I think we need to work with the youth and give them something to do.”

The City Council adjourned its meeting Tuesday night in memory of Sereinat’e Henderson.

What’s next for Ceasefire in Berkeley?

As part of the consent calendar, council members voted Tuesday to add the development of a local Ceasefire program to the list of work already underway to reimagine policing in Berkeley.

The City Council voted in July on a broad package of police reforms, including a community process to look at what it would take to rebuild trust and reshape public safety in Berkeley; a robust audit of police calls and the police budget; the creation of a new “Specialized Care Unit” that would reduce police contacts with people in mental health crisis; and the possible creation of a new Berkeley Department of Transportation (“BerkDOT”) that would limit police involvement in traffic stops.

Berkeleyside is following that process closely and will share additional details when they are available.

To date, much of the work that’s taken place has happened at the staff level. Community meetings are coming but they are still in the development process.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...