More than 100 people took to the streets last Thursday night in an effort to build community and take a stand against violence in the part of the city that’s seen much of it this year.
Attendees at Ceasefire Walk Against Violence on Oct. 3 in West Berkeley included community organizers, members of congregations from around the city and beyond, and local residents and officials. Several family members and friends of Berkeley’s most recent homicide victim, Anthony Medearis Jr., led part of the procession for much of the night.
Miracle Paul, the aunt of one of Medearis’ sons, said it meant a lot to the family to see so many people turn out for the event. The procession walked a circuit from Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, at Hearst Avenue and Ninth Street, to the site of two of this year’s homicides, at Delaware Street and San Pablo Avenue, then up to Camelia and Eighth streets where Medearis was killed in September.
“It’s too much going on in Berkeley, and we’re so small,” Paul said.
Medearis’ best friend, Gerard Jackson, was among the group. “It meant a lot that everyone came out to grieve with us,” he said. Jackson said he also knew Berkeley homicide victim Jermaine Davis, who was killed in July. Jackson wore memorial necklaces with both of his friends’ photographs on Thursday night.
The evening began at 6:30 p.m. at Good Shepherd with explanations about the role Ceasefire Walks have played in Oakland to build community and address violence. Some leaders said the walk would be the start of a recurring event in Berkeley.
Pastor Este Cantor, who runs Good Shepherd, told attendees that “it was the one-two punch of two young men being killed in August and September that finally woke us up. We have to do something.”
(In August, Dustin Bynum was shot outside Bing’s Liquor.)
Councilwoman Linda Maio, who represents parts of West Berkeley, said it was clear to her that the community needed to take steps beyond policing to address violence in Berkeley, from wrap-around services for youth in schools, to community events such as the Ceasefire Walk.
“You can’t put enough police on the street to address violence,” she said. “Retribution, that’s what’s driving the violence. We need to make a change.”
Before the walk, several other religious and community leaders spoke about what such events can accomplish.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor said anger in response to the violence “should motivate us for change,” as it has driven peace advocates to action for decades.
Pastor Mike Smith, of the McGee Baptist Church, said he grew up six blocks from Good Shepherd, and had struggled over the years watching the community face difficulties. Smith is also the executive director at BOCA (Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action), one of the organizations that helped plan the walk, and drew many of its participants.
“Why have we never achieved all that we can be?” he asked. “Berkeley says it is important to celebrate our differences. But something all of us can understand is pain.… We are here tonight so that the future can be brighter. You see that we can make a difference.”
Anton Burrell, also of BOCA, said the walks connect community members with people in the neighborhoods, building community both within the pedestrians and beyond. They have been going on in Oakland for some time.
They send the message that “We care for you, we care for our communities, but we want the violence to stop,” said Dedrick Battle, another anti-violence leader who spoke. “It’s just a symbol of what we want to see in Berkeley. Relationship-building is the most important part.”
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