About three dozen police officers swarmed into the downtown area Friday afternoon when a high school rivalry involving about 150 students nearly turned into a riot.
According to Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes, at approximately 4 p.m., two officers called for all available units to the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Allston Way. The officers had been trying to disperse the large group of teenagers when several youths began shoving and punching each other. The two officers called for backup after several bottles were thrown in their direction from the crowd.
“We all bailed out of the station when we got the call,” Lopes said.
Traffic was blocked at the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Allston Way for about 30 minutes while Berkeley, BART and University police quickly dispersed the crowd of teenagers. Lopes said there were no injuries and no arrests.
Around the time classes were dismissed for the weekend, as many as 50 Richmond High School students showed up at the Berkeley High campus apparently to retaliate for a previous altercation, according to Lopes.
“It’s one of those back and forth things,” Lopes said. “Some Richmond kids beat up a Berkeley kid and then some Berkeley kids beat up a Richmond kid, etc.,”
Berkeley merchants have long-complained about students flooding downtown both during the lunch hour and after school.
School officials lock the Berkeley High campus after school lets out. Lopes said the two groups of students apparently moved from campus to the downtown area when trouble began.
Two female Berkeley students at the scene, who refused to give their names, said it was the result of an ongoing rivalry between the two high schools. “El Cerrito and Richmond kids just don’t like Berkeley kids and Berkeley kids don’t like them,” one said.
The police formed a line of about 10 officers and moved the Berkeley students south down Shattuck to Kittredge Street while another line of officers directed the Richmond students north on Shattuck to the BART station.
“Kids were fighting, rioting, throwing bottles and we moved them down the street,” said one police officer redirecting foot traffic who did not want to give his name. “We’re separating them. We’re telling the Berkeley kids to go home and telling the Richmond kids to go home. There’s too many of them and not enough of us.”
Joranso Burton, a student teacher at Berkeley High, was walking by during the melee.
“There was some loud talking and then it escalated into a push and a shove and then the police swarmed in,” he said.
Vickie Reed, a downtown business owner located on the corner where the near-riot occurred said it seemed like an isolated incident and that she was never scared.
“We locked the door. We have bulletproof glass. A few customers came in [visibly shaken] and we locked them in,” she said. “It’s just like the old days in the 60s.”
Don Washington, a Berkeley guide that walks downtown said it was difficult to see what happened because it all went down too fast.
“The police got everything under control pretty fast,” he said. “And there was no unnecessary force. It’s good that they’re here.”
Officers let the late-afternoon traffic flow again after the crowd dispersed.
“It don’t matter that they broke it up, it’s going to happen another day,” said a female student who did not want to give her name.