In the wake of several weeks of unprecedented gun violence and tragic loss, Berkeley officials have asked residents to come out Sunday to begin to find ways to turn the community's grief into action.
"I’m hoping this time it won’t be a one-off event," Berkeley School Board Member Laura Babitt told The Berkeley Scanner on Wednesday. "I want to do something that creates a systemic proactive response. How do we connect so that many hands make light work?"
October began with a shooting that sent shockwaves through the Bay Area when Jazy and Angel Sotelo Garcia, two teenage brothers from Berkeley, were killed in North Oakland at a birthday party for a friend.
One week later, a Berkeley divinity school student was killed — and three of his relatives wounded — in a shooting on Telegraph Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus. It was the worst shooting Berkeley has seen in decades in terms of scope and violence.
As of this week, both investigations remain open. Police have announced no arrests but detectives continue to work the cases.
Babitt said Sunday's rally will include informal presentations from people whose lives have been directly impacted by gun violence; an update about efforts already underway in Berkeley on the violence prevention front; and, ultimately, plans for future action for those who want to push the work forward.
(Scroll to the foot of this story for event details.)
"When are we going to get started?"
Earlier this month, Babitt and several other officials from the Berkeley Unified School District had spoken during a candlelight vigil for the Sotelo Garcia brothers at Longfellow Middle School.
When it was her turn at the mic, Babitt had spoken out about gun violence and the urgent need to curtail easy access to firearms, which have proliferated on East Bay streets.
She also urged anyone who wanted to take action to get in touch with her. And they had, Babitt told The Berkeley Scanner.
"People have been reaching out to me ever since, asking: What can we do to end gun violence? When are we going to get started?" she said.
Babitt said Sunday's rally will be an opportunity to talk about "what has been done, what is being done and who really wants to dive deeper into this work."
Violence prevention work is happening — but it takes time
The city has been working on a range of violence prevention efforts in recent years, including the creation of a $1 million Ceasefire program.
That program could put five life coaches and three outreach workers into the community to help build relationships with those most in need of mentorship and support. Berkeley's Ceasefire program is scheduled to be up and running next year, according to a recent city memo.
These and other efforts "will happen," South Berkeley Councilman Ben Bartlett told The Berkeley Scanner on Wednesday. "Our hope is that it can happen sooner rather than later. In these months of waiting, we’re losing more young lives."
Sunday's rally will be co-hosted by Babitt, Bartlett and West Berkeley Councilman Terry Taplin. Mayor Jesse Arreguín and other local officials are slated to attend.
Officials said strengthening the link between city and school district violence prevention efforts is part of what they hope to accomplish this weekend.
That work often takes place in silos, officials said, which can pose obstacles to progress.
"So much of the violence in the community intersects with the school-age population," Bartlett said Wednesday. "It’s important to create an opportunity to try to address both at once."
Babitt said she hopes to see a strong turnout Sunday from those in the community who want to help do this work directly or support it behind the scenes.
And she said she believes Berkeley can accomplish its goals if community members find the right way forward.
"There must be another stone to overturn," she told constituents in an email this week.
"There must be something more we can do," she added. "Our kids can't wait."