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Councilmember Promises Probe Of Anita Gay Shooting

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 26, 2008
Mourners lit candles at the end of Thursday night’s memorial service for Anita Gay, who was fatally shot outside her South Berkeley apartment by a police officer Feb. 16.
By Richard Brenneman
Mourners lit candles at the end of Thursday night’s memorial service for Anita Gay, who was fatally shot outside her South Berkeley apartment by a police officer Feb. 16.

Tears, sobs, angry words, whispered remembrances and promises of action punctuated Thursday night’s gathering in a South Berkeley church to honor the memory of a grandmother fatally shot by police on the night of Feb. 16. 

“I don’t think it should have happened,” said Max Anderson, who represents the area on the Berkeley City Council. 

“It is very difficult to understand why a 51-year-old woman was shot this way, and I need answers,” he said, adding that talks with community members “have given me a different version” than the official police account. 

The councilmember spoke after listening to friends and family describe Gay as a woman who cared for friends and young people in the community. 

“Those of us who grew up in the black community know we have people in the community” who care for others, he said. “In the neighborhood I grew up in, there was a woman we called Big Mama. We didn’t need foster care. She raised scores of children,” he said. 

The stories he heard about Gay Thursday evening reminded him of that figure from his youth. 

Anderson said that after meeting with City Manager Phil Kamlarz, he would make certain that another community meeting would be held addressing concerns raised by the shootings. 

He also directed a dig at Berkeley police, who “recently had a problem with narcotics missing” from the department’s evidence locker. In that case, he said, “it seems like the police are sometimes reluctant to snitch,” though they encourage community members to inform on each other. 

Police need to operate within the law, said the councilmember, because only then will the community have confidence in law enforcement and the needed services they provide. 

Other speakers included Andrea Prichett, a B-Tech Academy teacher who is also an activist with Copwatch, a representative of Uhuru House, a speaker from the ANSWER Coalition and Melvin Dixon of the Commemoration Committee of the Black Panther Party. 

Another speaker, Gary King Sr., had a more personal connection with Gay’s family. His son, Gary Jr., was also shot in the back by a police officer five months earlier a few blocks to the south. 

Gary King Jr. was killed on Sept. 20 near the corner of 54th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way by a Oakland police sergeant who had been involved in at least two prior shootings, one fatal. 

As with the killing of Gay, police and neighborhood accounts offered contrasting versions of the shooting, and in both cases the people shot were alleged to be in possession of deadly weapons—a knife in Gay’s case, a pistol in the case of the younger King. 

“My son Jerry was also murdered by the police,” said King, who said of Gay, “another queen of the neighborhood has fallen.” 

King’s family has sued the Oakland Police Department, and the young man’s death has sparked demonstrations at the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. 

The DA’s office, Berkeley police homicide detectives and the department’s internal affairs division are all investigating the shooting of Gay. Officer Rashawn Cummings, who fired the fatal shots, is currently on paid administrative leave. 

Berkeley police spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said that statements from witnesses, family members and the officer had all indicated that Gay was carrying a knife at the time she was shot. 

Family members and some witnesses have since stated she had put the knife down before the shooting. 



While many of the mourners Thursday night portrayed Berkeley police as violent and the death of Gay as an act of murder, two Berkeley police organizations have challenged one of the most outspoken critics of the shooting. 

Though he didn’t speak at the memorial Thursday night, Allan Jackson, president of the Berkeley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has called the shooting “a cowardly act of murder of an African American female by the Berkeley Police Department.” 

In a letter published Friday in the Daily Planet and quoted elsewhere, Jackson said, “It is apparent that the only thing in the mind of a Berkeley Police Officer is to kill any African American that they can.” 

In a joint statement, Henry Wellington, president of the Berkeley Police Association, and Shira Warren, president of the Berkeley Black Police Officers Association, denounced Jackson’s charges. 

The two officers, both African American, said his allegation that Berkeley police target blacks for shooting “has absolutely no basis in fact and is without any credibility whatsoever.” 

In their statement, the officers said Jackson’s remarks are “needlessly inflammatory, and serve no constructive purpose.”