Every Berkeley resident should be outraged that people in South Berkeley are living each and every day with violent crime. Just imagine having to cope with the ordinary day-to-day stress of raising children, working to earn a living, driving in today’s traffic and maintaining a household plus having to deal with crime and the threat of crime outside of your door. In the last few months, South Berkeley residents have had to live with gunshots in the night, a body dumped on the street, over 20 rounds fired from guns at high noon near a public school, young boys viciously attacked, kicked and beaten by other youngsters, killings related to a drug war stemming from shared social problems with Oakland, a resurgence of drug dealing, hate crimes that go unrecognized and so have little chance of being stopped, and a canceled high school football game because of the fear of violence.
Neighborhoods are organizing, block meetings are occurring, rewards are being offered and the police are working on the problems. However, our city Council is absent from the scene. What is happening in South Berkeley is so important that it isn’t a matter for an individual councilmember to sit down and have a little chat with the city manager. The problem is so big and important that the entire Council must respond. Secondly, what is happening can easily explode further, so the response from the city must be as swift as possible.
Since the Council can’t and shouldn’t do the job of the police department, you might ask why should they even be involved? Some of you might say let the police do their job, shrug your shoulders and go on reading your newspaper. Wrong. As leaders in this city, the Council must leave no doubt in any one’s mind that all of our neighborhoods are equally important and vital parts of creating a healthy community. The residents of Berkeley must remind them of this basic responsibility. So, what should the Council do? The Council can: keep the city focused on the problems and the task of finding solutions; ensure that adequate city resources are targeted to help; enact new policies and programs as appropriate; provide that the city’s response is built on a foundation of data and that accountability is not forgotten as an essential part of the solution; actively work to fulfill the true promise of community policing by supporting increased and meaningful communication between residents and police; bring together the city, school district and arms of the justice system to work cooperatively in a comprehensive response; and most importantly, work directly with the people in the area every step of the way. In the light of the important work to be done, it is simply not acceptable that following a six-week recess, Council meetings were canceled because one member went on an European vacation. It is not acceptable that it takes weeks to get even minor items on the Council’s agenda because they must be reviewed first by the new Agenda Committee.
Not waiting for further damage to occur, several individual South Berkeley neighborhoods are already coming together in a single large focused group to forge a plan of positive action to work with the police, city, school district, District Attorney’s Office, and other agencies so that their children can be safe and their neighborhoods can be the pleasant places they expect and are entitled to. Areas in West Berkeley suffering from similar problems shouldn’t be forgotten. They, too, need to follow this same organizational pattern. South and West Berkeley coupled together could be a powerful force for change.
The effort being undertaken by South Berkeley, and hopefully joined by West Berkeley residents as well, is promising and exciting. This effort needs to be supported by every resident and neighborhood group in this community. You can show your support by writing to the Council indicating your concern and asking for their immediate and active involvement in addressing these problems. The school district is to be commended for the work they have already done in weeding out troublemakers attending Berkeley Schools on transfer from other districts, but they should be encouraged to continue to address those problems and that of truancy. Our children cannot learn when they are not in school and children who are not positively involved with their schools are part of the problem. Write to the school district as well, thanking them for what they have done, and encouraging them to continue their efforts. The link between police department and District Attorney’s Office with our neighborhoods needs to be re-opened and strengthened. You need to write District Attorney Tom Orloff, telling him that Berkeley is serious about cleaning up the crime and drug dealing in our community.
All of us have the responsibility to make Berkeley the wonderful community it can be. Let’s do it now!
Shirley Dean is a former mayor of Berkeley.