This week, for the first time ever, Berkeley police officers were given carte blanche to speak without filters at a public meeting about gang activity in town and what can be done to help those who are drawn to it. Monday night, BPD gang experts Sgt. Patty Delaluna and Officer Matt McGee offered insight into the main gangs in Berkeley, the history of local gangs, dynamics that have sparked recent violence, and more. The meeting was organized by the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee (BSNC), which has monthly sessions at BPD on public safety subjects such as shootings in Berkeley, drinking at Cal, youth violence and more.
About 20 local residents attended the meeting, and pledged to take information back to their neighborhoods after officers answered questions about the topic at hand. Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, who showed up late, remarked that nearly no one in the room had come to her violence prevention meeting a few days earlier, and said that’s where the community’s efforts should be.
“It just kind of saddens me to hear this kind of talk because, in a way, it sounds racist, discriminatory,” she said. “I’m just speaking the truth right now, from what I just heard.” Her comments echoed disagreements that have cropped up repeatedly in online forums like Nextdoor, where residents worried about crime have clashed with those who say such discussions inflame racial tensions and promote stereotypes and profiling.
Others in the room Monday said their hope is to find ways to curtail criminal behavior, not demonize a particular demographic group. Some residents spoke about city programs and summer jobs available to youth, and said they want to increase them. Officers emphasized efforts they have made to build relationships and connect at-risk youth and their families to resources — which Berkeley does have — and said the success stories have stuck with them over the years. The failures have made an impact, too. (more…)