On April 17, Berkeley students and activists gathered in MLK Civic Center Park in honor of what would have been Kayla Moore’s 50th birthday, had she not died during an interaction with Berkeley police in 2013. The rally was hosted by Berkeley Copwatch, and there were about 100 attendees.
Kayla Moore was a Black trans woman who suffered from schizophrenia and was experiencing a mental health crisis on the night of her death. “Kayla Moore was in a crisis, and there was no reason to restrain her, there was no reason to agitate her, there was no reason to treat her like a threat,” asserted Alecia Harger, a member of Berkeley Copwatch and co-organizer of the rally. “We should not have seen a violent response,” Harger added.
In February of 2014, Moore’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Berkeley, which mentioned that the warrant used on the night of her death described a 60-year-old man, while she was 41. The lawsuit also emphasized that Moore died under the weight of at least six officers. In opposition, the City of Berkeley defended the Alameda County Coroner’s claim that Moore died as a result of “acute combined drug intoxication with a contribution from morbid obesity and intrinsic cardiovascular disease.” In 2016, the judge sided with the City of Berkeley. When brought back to court in 2018, the case was rejected yet again. The justification for this ruling was that the evidence provided by Moore’s family did not effectively prove that her death was due to discrimination. Currently, Moore’s case is on appeal. Andrea Pritchett, founder of Berkeley Copwatch, said, “We are hoping for a full appellate court to hear this case so that we can get some justice.”
In addition to demanding justice for Kayla Moore’s death, the rally focused on bringing general awareness to the recurring issue of violent police responses to mental health crises. Protesters held signs that read “Care Not Cops” and “Demilitarize Mental Healthcare.”
The rally started with a land acknowledgement, followed by a listing of Berkeley Copwatch’s six demands for the Special Care Unit (SCU), which the Berkeley City Council voted to create in July of 2020. The demands are: The SCU must be independent from the Berkeley Police Department (BDP) in funding and dispatch; the SCU must receive input from impacted communities; BPD must be defunded; the SCU must give culturally relevant care; the SCU must integrate long term mental health programs; lastly, the SCU must be evaluated in accountability and transparency.
Pritchett elaborated, “We need the mayor and the city council to take control of the police department and its resources, give them what they need to perform a police function, and give the rest of the city what we need to keep our community safe.” According to Pritchett, these resources could be dedicated to minimizing issues like homelessness and mental illness.
Various speakers addressed the crowd, including Vincent Bryant, who was shot in the face by BPD on January 2 during a mental health crisis in which he stole items from a Downtown Berkeley Walgreens and threatened an employee and officers with a chain. Bryant mentioned that he admired how Los Angeles and San Francisco both send mental health professionals with police during mental health emergencies. “If I would have had that, I would have never gotten shot. I would have listened,” he explained. Maria Moore, sister to Kayla Moore and member of Berkeley Copwatch, was also one of the speakers. “People are so scared to hear the phrase, ‘defund the police,’ but we’re just saying that we don’t need police in mental health policy. … Kayla would be alive if there was a mental health professional that had come with the police,” she said.
The group continued back to the park to hear from more community members, the short journey filled with chants and percussion.
Despite Kayla Moore’s death having happened 8 years ago, Berkeley Copwatch and the community remain dedicated to her story and ending police violence in the face of mental health crises. “Just like every Black trans woman, she was incredibly vulnerable to systemic violence, and we see the most brutal outcome of that in her murder,” said Harger.