An apparent shoot-out in West Berkeley on Saturday morning has already prompted a city official to hold an emergency meeting this weekend, citing a “terrifying uptick in gun violence over the past year.”
Update, Oct. 15: Police announce arrest of gang members, seizure of weapons in Addison Street investigation
Berkeley has had nearly 30 shootings in 2021. Very few people have been wounded in this year’s gunfire, but community members have still been unsettled and scared by the increase in frequency.
On Saturday, police were dispatched just before noon to Addison and 10th streets for reports of gunfire. Some callers heard 8-10 shots and said two vehicles were involved, according to scanner traffic reviewed by Berkeleyside. Police found evidence of gunfire at Addison and 10th streets as well as a second shooting scene about two blocks away at Allston Way and Ninth Street.
Berkeley Police Lt. Melanie Turner said many people called to report the gunfire, perhaps because of the time of day and also because there were quite a few vehicles and witnesses in the area when the gunfire broke out. Police found no victims but located a bullet hole in one vehicle.
To add to the chaos, minutes before the shooting, police had been dispatched to a report of a woman on the hood of a moving vehicle that was traveling through the city from West Berkeley into Berkeley’s Westbrae neighborhood.
The woman was yelling for help and for people to call the police. That incident originated at Addison and 10th streets, Turner said, but police believe it was a domestic violence call that was unrelated to the subsequent gunfire.
According to emergency scanner traffic reviewed by Berkeleyside, police followed that vehicle through the city and ultimately stopped it in the 1400 block of Rose Street (near Sacramento Street) before the shooting started.
There have, however, been two other reports of gunfire in the area in recent weeks, including on Aug. 20 at Channing Way and Eighth Street just before 10 p.m. Police told Berkeleyside multiple callers reported gunfire and that several parked vehicles, two fences and a tree were hit by bullets.
That followed a shooting in mid-August that wounded a man on San Pablo Avenue, as well as gunfire during a robbery in the 1700 block of Ninth Street on July 22.
Witness: “It feels like a broken community in Berkeley”
Many local residents contacted Berkeleyside about Saturday’s gunfire and the reports of the woman on the car hood.
A father who was in George Florence Park — on 10th Street between Addison and Allston — for a play date with his two children, ages 1 and 3, described what happened when the gunfire broke out.
“The entire park turned to instant panic with parents snatching up their children, ducking low and dogs darting away from their owners as everyone laid on the ground or scrambled for the nonexistent cover,” he said. “We were penned in with high fences on all 3 corners of the park with the only escape route being toward the street, toward the gunfire and the screeching tires of the assailants or the intended victims.”
After the initial spate of perhaps 10 shots on Addison, the fracas moved southwest to Allston, he said, “where we heard the remaining rounds in the gun being emptied.”
He continued: “We huddled and waited, looking for a way out, not sure if the shooter was just around the corner or if there was another shooter ready to respond in kind. It was extremely confusing and caused that very warm and fuzzy panic that fills your chest. I remembered then feeling my arms and checking my body for wounds. I also replayed the shots in my head as we hunkered down with my trembling son who kept telling us he was scared and to keep him covered with my jacket.”
Families waited in the park until they were sure it was safe to leave. The man tried to call 911 but had a hard time getting through.
“It was terrifying and it is so disconcerting to have to explain to a child to keep their head down and attempt to make sense of what had happened and explain it for them to understand and to also feel safe moving forward,” he said. “After too many violent incidents, we plan to move out of the Bay Area as soon as we are financially able to. It feels like a broken community in Berkeley.”
Taplin: “I don’t want this to be normalized”
Word of Saturday’s shooting quickly reached Councilmember Terry Taplin, who grew up in the neighborhood and lives near George Florence Park. Taplin acted fast to organize a community meeting Sunday at the park to hear from neighbors and police.
Police told attendees they do not believe the recent shootings — dating back to July — are linked. About 20 people attended the meeting.
Taplin, speaking to Berkeleyside after the event, said he wanted to send a clear signal that Berkeley will not tolerate violence in the neighborhood and also wanted people to know he and the city are listening.
“This is really close to home,” he said. “It just felt so urgent to connect with people.”
At Sunday’s meeting, community members asked for guidance, Taplin said. (Berkeleyside did not attend the event.) They said they did not know if it was safe to take their children to the park. They asked for more police on bikes, a surveillance camera at George Florence and more programs for youth — such as Voices Against Violence — to help disrupt the cycles of violence that are playing out.
Taplin said he sees the gunfire as a serious concern.
“Especially around our parks,” he said. “Kids are out, families are out. Just because a shooter might be targeting a different person doesn’t mean other people won’t get hit in the crossfire.”
Taplin said the increasingly frequent gunfire has put pressure on the neighborhood on top of the stress already posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last thing we need is to be constantly afraid when we hear what could be a gunshot,” he said. “I don’t want this to be normalized. We shouldn’t get used to this. We shouldn’t put up with this.”
Learn how to connect with Councilmember Taplin on his website
In response to this year’s gun violence, Taplin has pushed for more bike patrols and other public safety measures. The prior weekend, he had just held a community meeting about gun violence. And he is now launching weekend “office hours” each Saturday at a different park in his district in an effort to ensure he is accessible to neighborhood concerns.
He also noted that there are some in the community who downplay reports of violence and point to the fact that crime reports are down significantly from earlier decades.
“Whether crime is up or down does not matter,” Taplin said, adding that he has heard from constituents who tell him they are afraid to leave their homes given what has been occurring.
“There is this image of Berkeley as a paradise without crime,” he said. “In our neighborhoods in the flats, our reality contradicts that completely. The more that we push back against that, ultimately the better.”