Youth March Against Violence in Southwest Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 17, 2007

Armed with trash bags, notepads and pens, thirty teens walked the streets of Southwest Berkeley Wednesday to protest rising violence in the neighborhood and to bridge divisions within the community. 

Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA) and Berkeley United Youth in Action (BUYA) joined forces with the City of Berkeley to discuss issues ranging from crime to cleanliness during the walk. 

“This is just the beginning of what we want to do to build a better community,” said Ariana Casanova, BOCA member and a assistant to Mayor Tom Bates. 

“There is a perception among adults that youth are the main perpetrators of violence. But youth are also the victims of violence. We want to show the community that the youth can also make a difference.” 

Students, neighbors, city officials and plainclothes police officers got a chance to connect and learn more about the neighborhood that was rocked by eight shootings over the summer.  

“This is the first time I have seen a real spike in crime in Southwest Berkeley since I moved there eleven years ago,” said councilmember Darryl Moore in a telephone interview to the Planet from Southern California. 

“I wish I could have been there for the walk, but I am sure the kids will do a great job in making their concerns heard to the city. Youth have to feel comfortable and be a part of the neighborhood. It’s important that the city work toward providing youth employment to keep kids occupied during summer.” 

Moore said the recent surge in crime would be best solved by increasing police protection. He called neigborhood watchgroups the city’s best “eyes and ears.” 

On Wednesday, Berkeley High graduates Netza Ramero and Ariadne Jorrostieta helped pick up stray pieces of paper littering the pavements as the walk progressed north to Sacramento from San Pablo Park. 

“We are also noting down things that should be improved,” said Ramero, 18, who lives on Russell Street. Ramero joined BUYA after his friend Salvador Villarreal was killed in a drive-by shooting in Oakland.  

BUYA offers tutoring, lecturing and dance lessons to students every week as part of a pilot program. The majority of their students are Latinos and African Americans. 

“We want to show people that unlike what they see on the streets and in the newspapers, the youth are not bad. Half of our neighbors are not even aware of our efforts to build a better relationship with the community. We’d like to see more interaction between adults and youth. We want to change things for the better.” 

Jorrostieta, who will be going to Diablo Valley College in the fall, said that she felt like a stranger in her own neighborhood. 

“Some neighbors never talk to me or say hi and I feel weird because I know they are my neighbors,” she said. “We need to have more communication. That’s the only way things will change.” Two of Jorrostieta’s friends were shot outside her house on Russell Street about a year ago. 

“Yes, crime has definitely gone up in Southwest Berkeley,” acknowledged BPD spokesperson Lt. Wes Hester. “Most of them have occurred around south of Ashby. Shots have been fired on people’s property. We are currently developing a strategy to find out who the culprits are.” 

Hester added that the walk had helped him meet the faces behind the emails and phone calls he receives from neighbors everyday. 

“Graffiti vandalism has also gone up in the area,” he said. “The city has organized a citywide task force to address graffiti vandalism, which includes the police, public works, code enforcement, parks and recreation and the city manager’s office. Outreach is also being done to Berkeley and Albany middle and high schools.” 

Councilmemer Max Anderson, who organized a similar walk in his district, also walked on Wednesday evening. 

“We are talking about the same issues, so it just makes sense,” he said.  

“This walk is meant to encourage people to take part in anti-violence. We want to address crime as well as the underlying issues that drive crime. The lack of education and job opportunities, especially for youth of color, is a big problem. The community can make a difference by providing opportunities for young people to express their interest in a safe place.” 

Anderson added that the 2007-08 city budget provided summer job programs for young people. 

“The mayor, councilmember Moore and I are also trying to beef up the economic development department to make job training available to the youth. That way they can earn some money and understand what it takes to hold a job. We are also trying to figure out how to create a youth center. We have recently had a lot of complaints about the lack of recreational and after-school programs for kids.”