Berkeley community holds vigil for Kayla Moore 4 years after her death

Catherine Wallin/Staff

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Berkeley residents gathered on the corner of Allston Way and Shattuck Avenue on Monday night for a vigil in honor of Kayla Moore, a Black transgender woman diagnosed with schizophrenia who died while in Berkeley Police custody in 2013.

This year’s vigil, arranged by Justice 4 Kayla Moore, Berkeley CopWatch and Art Responders, marked the first time Moore’s poems were read aloud at a vigil. The vigil was meant to honor the memory of Kayla Moore as well as rally support for the transgender community.

Daryl Wells, the founder of Art Responders — an organization that responds to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence with art — facilitated the vigil and provided a platform for attendees to discuss ways to prevent other cases of ill-managed police responses to a mental health crises.

Wells said Moore in particular was “vulnerable as a (transgender) woman and woman with mental health issues.”

Andrea Prichett, a volunteer at Berkeley CopWatch, and others at the vigil are also advocating for police demilitarization, humane treatment for those suffering from mental illnesses and transgender rights, according to Prichett. Prichett added that Berkeley CopWatch is lobbying to create a new method for responding to mental health incidents that includes mental health professionals.

“Kayla was supposed to receive help and the call that was made to the police station was intended to evoke a sympathetic response. Unfortunately the police treated this call … like a criminal instance,” Prichett said. “Mental health issues require a different set of skills.”

Paul Kealoha-Blake, chair of the Berkeley Mental Health Commission, said at the vigil that 35 percent of police calls are mental health related, yet people affected by mental health issues do not get the professional help they deserve in times of crisis. This statistic has not been verified by The Daily Californian.

Maria Moore, Kayla Moore’s sister, who attended the event, said her sister’s death is relevant because it is a recurring problem for people with mental health crises.

“Kayla was (a) textbook case where cops were uninterested. … All it took was for an officer to have a talk with her. People who are mentally disabled are not criminals. The mentally ill are being criminalized instead of being given help.”

Moore’s family filed a lawsuit against Berkeley Police Department which was dismissed, save for the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, motion, where the court found that police officers violated the ADA and failed to accommodate Moore’s schizophrenia upon her arrest. This trial for the motion will take place on Oct. 23.

Alison Bernstein, chair of the Police Review Commission, said the commission has been aiming to enroll all BPD officers in additional crisis intervention training. All BPD officers are currently enrolled in an eight-hour crisis intervention training.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel denied to comment on this vigil but said in an email that they are “supportive of any community members who wish to memorialize friends or family with a vigil.”

Contact Ananya Sreekanth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @asreekanth_dc.

A previous version of this article stated that the Police Review Commission is working with the Berkeley Police Department towards enrolling all officers in an eight-hour crisis intervention training course. In fact, all BPD officers already take eight-hour crisis intervention training.