City residents alarmed by rise in number of homicides, shootings

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff
A man was shot in front of Bobs Liquor, on the corner of Sacramento and Oregon.

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Around this time in 2011, Berkeley saw its first and last homicide of the year. Less than four months into 2012, the city has already seen three homicides as well as multiple nonfatal shootings, alarming residents who live in neighborhoods struck by the violence.

The city’s first homicide of 2012 occurred Jan. 26 when Hercules resident Kenneth Warren was sprayed with bullets as he stood outside a barber shop on Shattuck Avenue. Then came two nonfatal shootings in March just two days apart.

A few weeks later, gunshots were reported in South Berkeley on March 26 near the corner of Russell and Sacramento streets. In that instance, a man allegedly shot a pistol at another, but police have not released the names of any victims and are not saying whether they have identified a suspect.

Just three days after that shooting, 24-year-old Devin Whitmire was shot and killed March 29 while walking out of Bob’s Liquors & Deli on the corner of Oregon and Sacramento streets — roughly one block away from the previous shooting.

Randall Oscar Alston was charged with murder in connection with the shooting at an arraignment Tuesday, according to Berkeley Police Department Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

The number of shootings in South Berkeley in particular has caused fear among many residents.

“It’s not very secure living here,” said Radia Rouabah, who lives across the street from Bob’s Liquors. “It’s very scary.”

Rouabah was in her home Thursday night when she heard four gunshots, ran outside and saw Whitman on the ground with a man crying over him.

Other residents of the area say that while they do not feel unsafe, the shootings are unsettling.

“I feel safe, but I never know when it’s going to happen,” said Katherine Johnson, who owns Just Cuts Barber Shop, which is located across the street from the site of the March 26 shooting.

Johnson also expressed concern that the frequency of the shootings is harming her business.

“People don’t want to come down here because they hear it is unsafe,” Johnson said. “(The shootings) put a damp on my business.”

In that light, a memorial constructed at the street corner near where Whitmire was killed served both as a homage to the dead man and a reminder of violence in the neighborhood that could be detrimental to local businesses.

Some residents said the shootings might have been prevented had it not been for what they called neglect from the city government.

Andy Kreamer, who lives in the neighborhood, said he thinks the shootings were the result of a “social justice problem” in which funding in Berkeley is disproportionately distributed to neighborhoods in the Berkeley Hills.

“(The city) spends money here but only for cops, which is not doing anything to fix the problem,” Kreamer said.

But the recent spate of violence in the city has not left the Hills unscathed. Berkeley Hills resident Peter Cukor was bludgeoned to death outside his home February 18.

Kumiss said in an email that some of what the police department does to make the community safer is not something that residents can see.

“BPD resources have and continue to be allocated to South Berkeley,” she said in the email.

Regardless, there is a feeling among many residents that the shootings are inevitable in the neighborhood and have been for a long time.

“It’s part of living in Berkeley and Oakland,” said Eric Gagnebin, who volunteers at a community garden across from Bob’s Liquors. “It’s just part of the stuff we have to deal with.”

Sybil Lewis covers Berkeley communities.