Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shootings Shine Light on Street Programs, Lack of Preventive Programs

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
None of the six people shot while hanging out in front of two Berkeley buildings earlier this month lived there, but simply recognized them as a good place to throw dice and congregate, police said during a community meeting Tuesday night.

Making those properties and others like them less attractive for people to hang out, and a call for more youth outreach and mentoring were central issues raised at the meeting.

About 100 residents came to Berkeley Youth Alternatives, just a few feet from the site of a March 2 shooting at 2227 Bonar St., for a meeting hosted by Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore.

On March 2 at 6:20 p.m., three people involved in a dice game in front of the Bonar Street apartment building were shot by someone in a car that stopped in front of the building.

And on March 4 at about 2 a.m., a group of five men were hanging out in front of an empty house in the 2100 block of Seventh Street when three were shot, police said. All were treated and released.

Berkeley Police Lt. Dave Frankel, who spoke at the meeting, said police do not believe the two shootings were connected, nor were they gang-related.

The fact that none of the victims lived in the buildings is an indicator that neighbors and property owners can do more to make sure bad actors don't start taking over vulnerable neighborhoods, police said.

"The folks on Bonar Street who were shot at were not residents," said Frankel. "We believe that sometime in the past they may have had associations with people living there, so their familiarity with the buildings made it easy for them to disappear down the driveway. One of the folks who was shot doesn't live there but his car was parked in the parking lot of the building."

The owner of the building, Cliff Johnson, attended the meeting with his wife and said "we're doing whatever the police are asking us" to make sure the seven-unit building is less attractive to people looking for a place to hang out.

Johnson, who bought the property in 2005, said he hired a security company to monitor video cameras 24 hours a day. He is also installing an automatic gate for the parking lot, adding heavy steel doors so people can't get into the hallways to hang out and putting up a fence around the front of the property.

"Everything they've recommended we are going to do," Johnson said.

Both Frankel and police officer Cesar Melero told residents they need citizen involvement to help prevent more shootings.

"People sometimes get used to certain types of activity, but we need you to call us," Melero said.

Activities that warrant a call to police, Melero said, include: people playing dice on the street, drinking, using or selling drugs; someone lingering in the dark; someone who "flees after they see you looking at them"; people going door to door ringing doorbells; someone "walking down the street carrying furniture in an awkward manner"; someone screaming for help; and the sound of breaking glass, among others.

But some at the meeting expressed frustration that police have not been more proactive and that the city has not provided more preventive programs for youth.

"I hate it that it took a drive-by shooting for us be having this meeting for something that has been going on outside my apartment building for a long time," said Art Williams who lives with his grandmother in the building where the Bonar shooting occurred. "We've called and the police didn't come until two hours later. I've watched the police sit on the corner and watch these kids, 30 deep, rolling dice in the driveway. Some of the police take their time and when they do come they hassle the tenants and it's not right."

Berkeley youth mentor and activist Todd Walker said the solution shouldn't be all about fixing up private property.

"I haven't heard one person in here talk about helping anyone," said Walker, who also works at an Oakland mortuary and often transports bodies of youngsters who died in street violence. "We're losing kids here. When all of you drive home and go back to your big houses, these kids are still going to be out here shooting dice. Don't talk like these kids are nothing. Stop worrying about your property values and start saving these kids lives."

Councilman Max Anderson, who also attended the meeting, said it's time residents step out of their "comfort zones" and engage kids who look like they are going down the wrong path.

"We all have to step up, because we can't have a policeman on every corner," Anderson said. "And we wouldn't want that if we could. We have to realize our interests go way beyond our property values. If we isolate ourselves, we won't have a sense of community." 

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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