Mystery, Anger Cloud Story Of Friday Night Shooting

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday May 06, 2008 - 05:42:00 PM

Anger over the brazen Friday night shooting in a troubled Berkeley neighborhood has renewed calls for a greater police presence and pitted neighbor against neighbor. 

While the news media focused on murder and a hostage standoff in the affluent Berkeley Hills, some folks who live near the intersection of Sacramento and Oregon streets wonder why they can’t get more attention from City Hall and police headquarters. 

A dispute that erupted on the street about 9:45 p.m. Friday ended up at Bob’s Liquors, where a 16-year-old was shot three times, said one neighbor who declined to be identified by name. 

He said he had not been questioned by police. 

Ayodele Nzinga, the mother of two boys who were the targets of the attack, said police have refused to return her calls. 

Berkeley police didn’t return the Daily Planet’s calls about the shooting, either. 

Getting on-the-record comments has proven difficult, with many neighbors refusing to be quoted by name for fear of possible reprisals. 

The youths who were attacked were members of a local hip-hop group, and Ayodele said both had prior run-ins with police—which she said had resulted from growing up in public housing in a neighborhood with many ex-felons. 

Another neighbor, Daniel Miller who works at Spiral Gardens on Sacramento just across Oregon from the shooting scene, said he didn’t see the shooting itself, but came outside moments later. 

“Apparently there was an altercation outside,” and a young man ran inside the store, where he was shot, Miller said. 

Miller described the injured youth as “a very upstanding fellow” who “seemed like he was putting his life together. He’s been through a lot, but mostly he acted in a pretty noble manner and with a lot of character.” 

But some other neighbors said the youth and his brother had been involved in neighborhood altercations and that at least one had been arrested as the result of a violent incident involving another youth. 

“They’ve had problems,” Nzinga said. “But we live in South Berkeley.” 

She said the incident began when the two youths,ages 18 and 16, stopped by the store. The 18-year-old went in to buy gum, and when he was leaving “he was accosted by two armed gunmen who pistol-whipped him.” 

The youth fled into the store, and ran to the back, calling out for his younger brother. When the boy entered the store, he was shot three times, once in the stomach and twice in the sides, she said. One slug bruised his aorta and missed his heart by a quarter-inch. 

Nzinga said she had repeatedly called Berkeley police in hopes of arranging protection for her sons, “but they never call me back.” 

Oakland police did call, she said, and interviewed her because of similarities to another incident in that city. 

The surrounding neighborhood has seen a relatively high rate of violence and property crimes over the last six months, according to Berkeley police figures gleaned from the department’s Community Crime View web site. [www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=7060] 

Over the past six months, prior to Friday night’s incident the area within a thousand feet of the intersection has seen three assaults with a deadly weapon, four robberies, a carjacking, ten residential burglaries, three commercial burglaries, eight drug arrests, a dozen car thefts and 41 loud reports—which most typically are calls reporting gunshots. 

“There’s a lot of crime here,” said neighborhood merchant. “We’ve been trying to get a meeting with the city manager and chief of police but so far nothing’s happened.” 

One merchant said that for a time police had bicycle patrols in Beats 12 and 13, which fall on either side of Sacramento Street. “It works a lot better when the officers know the neighbors,” he said. 

Miller acknowledged that violence isn’t unusual in the neighborhood. “There’s at least one shooting every six months,” he said. But he said police typically respond too heavily, and he charged that officers frequently force young men to lie down while they hold “exotic weapons” on them. 

But “after they find a couple of dime bags and make some arrests, then there’s no longer any police presence,” he said.