Elliot R. Halpern. Courtesy: Family of Elliot Halpern

Elliot R. Halpern, a lifelong activist engaged in civic life in Berkeley and beyond, died on April 15.

He was born in New Orleans on Aug. 17, 1939. He was the third of four children born to Max and Lee (Libby) Halpern. 

He grew up loving jazz, food and sports. Following his graduation from the Wharton School of Business in 1962, his family’s fabric business led him to working in the garment district in Manhattan. After leaving the garment industry, Elliot worked as the Controller for the Thrift Drug division of JC Penney in Pittsburgh. When he came to California, in the 1970s, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to start an ice cream business in Mendocino.  Elliot then sold equipment for Medical Systems Engineering, Associates. In the early 1990s, Elliot started and ran his own successful tax practice, EH Associates, in Albany, for over 30 years. 

Elliot was always involved in his children’s schools. He was instrumental in providing support for the music programs in the schools they attended. He was particularly supportive of the Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School and the Berkeley High School Jazz Band. 

Elliot Halpern (right) with Mansour Id-Deen of the NAACP. Credit: Emilie Raguso

He and his wife, Linda, enjoyed nearly 35 years of marriage. Together they traveled to five continents and were regular attendees at jazz festivals throughout the Bay Area, and the world. They both enjoyed family, friends, jazz, theater, art, books, hiking, poker and traveling. Both Linda and Elliot were community activists, equally committed to achieving civil rights and social justice for all. Up to his last weeks of life, Elliot engaged with local and national political issues. He served on the boards of the Berkeley NAACP chapter and the local and regional ACLU. He also played a significant role on many committees and commissions in Berkeley, and was very influential in establishing police accountability policies.

In 2011, he co-founded the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley to fight against racial profiling, political surveillance, police cooperation with ICE, and militaristic programs like Urban Shield. From 2018 on, he was central to the campaign to pass and then implement a city charter amendment, Measure II, which replaced the weak Police Review Commission with a more powerful Police Accountability Board, through his co-leadership of the Racism and Criminal Justice Reform group (RCJR).

For many years, Elliot worked with the NAACP and other groups to document the often harsh treatment of African American civilians by Berkeley police. In 2020 and 2021, Elliot took part in the mayor’s Fair and Impartial Policing Task Force, which drafted a pathbreaking set of anti-profiling recommendations that were adopted in full by the city council. Elliot was also closely engaged in work with the homeless community, both supporting encampments, and advocacy and lobbying with the Mayor’s Homeless Task Force in 2017.

On April 18, 2023, in recognition of Elliot’s many contributions to establishing fair and impartial policing and the movement to entirely reimagine public safety in Berkeley, the City Council closed their regular meeting in his honor and in sorrow for his loss.

Elliot Halpern at a rally. Courtesy: Rana Halpern

Elliot was a true justice warrior and a loving friend, father, grandfather, uncle and husband. Always dignified, elegant, respectful and helpful to others — and handsome to the end — he will be missed by all who were lucky enough to know him.

True to form and style, Elliot made his transition on Tax Day.  Elliot was predeceased by his brother, Alvin Halpern. He will be cherished in memory by his loving wife, Linda; his sister, Sandra Paillet; his brother, Herbert Halpern; his daughter, Rana Halpern; two stepsons, Chris (Andi) and Jami; grandchildren Owen, Dylan, Cameron and Naya; and many close friends.

His memorial will be held at 11 a.m. on June 2 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Road, Kensington. Contributions in his honor can be made to Youth Spirit ArtWorks