In the early morning on October 8, Berkeley was shaken by another shooting near the University of California, Berkeley, leaving one person dead and three people wounded. Just two weeks earlier, on October 1, the Berkeley High School community lost two brothers to gun violence. According to Berkeleyside, as of October 15, there have been at least 40 confirmed gunfire incidents in Berkeley this year, resulting in 3 deaths and 15 injuries. At BHS this past month, the effects of the tragedy have spread. Many students know someone who recently experienced the horror of losing a loved one, or you yourself knew someone who was killed, whether that’s a friend, classmate, or family member. Regardless, the impacts of gun violence on our local community of Berkeley and Oakland are clear. Bay Area youth must take action now to protect ourselves from gun violence and limit access to firearms in our community.
Compared to other states, California does have strict gun laws. However, on a local level, there is even more that we can do to simply limit the number of illegally sold guns in the community. For example, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, laws in Oakland require gun dealers to report their inventory to law enforcement on a regular basis, and also video record all sales of firearms. However, neither Alameda County nor Berkeley have this law. We must advocate for it, as it could deter local gun dealers from illegally trafficking firearms.
But even the strictest gun control laws by themselves will not eliminate gun violence. It’s community programs that further decrease the impact of local gun violence. Just miles away from Berkeley in Richmond, The Operation Peacemaker Fellowship, which was created under the Advance Peace Program, was found to result in 43 percent fewer gun violence related crimes. The program went into neighborhoods with increased crime rates, where they mediated conflicts and mentored at-risk youth.
The Advance Peace Program also aimed to decrease gun violence through a program called Neighborhood Change Agents: formerly incarcerated people who work with communities of color experiencing gun violence, who are often distrustful of police. The program has been implemented in several Californian cities, and according to a UC Berkeley study, two years after Advance Peace Program was implemented in Stockton, it “interrupted 44 gun-violence conflicts and mediated over 500 community conflicts that prevented escalation into gun violence.”
However, one of the issues with programs like Advance Peace is that they simply don’t have enough funding, especially compared to the police departments that receive more funding for similar, less successful programs. According to Berkeleyside, in June of this year, the Berkeley City Council approved a plan to “put about $10 million more toward its police department in both 2023 and 2024.” The plan will fund around 20 currently empty Berkeley Police Department positions, restoring the BPD to its pre-pandemic staffing level. In comparison, the Berkeley City Council only increased funding for community agencies that focus on public safety and health by 4 percent of it.
Here’s the bottom line: America has waited long enough for the federal government to take significant action to fight gun violence. The recent deaths of BHS students reveals to us that the issue of gun violence is our issue. It is a problem that will only continue to destroy our BHS community if left unaddressed. We cannot wait for change on a national level, or even for local politicians to make changes. We as students must be the ones to take initiative to save our community. We must advocate for stricter gun laws on a local level. We need to pressure the Cities of Berkeley and Oakland to invest in programs like Advance Peace, as we have seen their positive impact. As our community members grieve, the rest of us must work to minimize the amount of times our community will grieve again.