A month and a half ago and not 20 minutes after putting my children to sleep, I heard a familiar sound: multiple gunshots half a block from my house. I put my head out the door and saw a car speeding away and then I waited for the police to arrive and shared with them the little I knew. Then I texted someone who’s running for Berkeley City Council in District 2: Alex Sharenko. You see, Alex and I have a connection because of gun violence. It’s because of this connection that he has my unwavering support in his race for City Council.
I first met Alex shortly after a shooting in San Pablo Park almost two years ago. It was a Saturday afternoon and my family and I were there for a birthday party. I was talking to someone when I heard what sounded like fireworks coming from across the park and a friend yelled, “It’s gunshots! Get down!” For a split second that will haunt me for the rest of my life, I looked around and could not find my oldest son. Fortunately, he was safe, but that feeling absolutely shook me to my core.
In the wake of the shooting, some other parents and I decided to see if we could get cameras installed at San Pablo Park (this was, sadly, not the first shooting there). I reached out to a friend on the council, Councilmember Lori Droste, to see if anyone else was working on this issue in the district, and she said I needed to meet Alex. Mayor Jesse Arreguín was organizing a community meeting about the shooting in San Pablo Park and Alex and I decided to meet there for the first time.
Alex impressed me right away. The first speakers basically said we did not need any police involvement and they would only make matters worse, to which many applauded. When it was Alex’s turn, he stood up and up and said that yes, we need to invest in our youth and our communities, which he understood all too well as a regular volunteer with the Berkeley Youth Alternatives after school program. He also said we always need our police to respect our communities and to treat everyone with dignity. But he also said that at the end of the day, we do need the police in Berkeley. I believed it was the only eminently reasonable position there, but that did not make it any easier to say aloud and he received boos and hisses from a vocal group for saying it. To me, it showed conviction and character.
Alex continued to help us in our effort for the cameras in San Pablo Park after that meeting. After several months of inaction from the council, Alex asked me to join him to speak at a council meeting during a public comment period. He reached out to several contacts he knew at the police department and we had a series of meetings at my house to hear their assessment of the violence and potential solutions. And he was there at the final meeting when the City Council ultimately approved the camera installation.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude and indebtedness to Alex for all his assistance. My wife and I engaged in the advocacy we did, first and foremost, because we are parents and the prospect of raising our kids in an environment where gun violence was not an anomaly did not sit right with us. Alex helped us because he is simply a compassionate citizen who wants Berkeley to do right by its residents.
Unfortunately, current District 2 leadership has not shown the same level of commitment on this issue, displaying what I can only describe as resigned acceptance. Reducing gun violence has just never been a priority for Cheryl Davila, much to my frustration. Indeed, on this issue, she has done a fraction of the work as a council member than Alex has done as a concerned citizen. A change is clearly needed.
Just ten days after I texted Alex about the gunfire I heard, he texted me as there had been a shooting right outside his own house. It likely won’t be our last exchange on the matter. Unfortunately, since then there have been four more shootings and Berkeleyside also reports we have three times the number of killings and injuries from shootings in 2020 than in all of 2019. Gun violence is a complex issue. It won’t ever go completely away, but with the right leadership, the kind Alex Sharenko will provide, we can make it a hell of a lot rarer.