On Saturday, March 28, one of our own fell victim to the rampant violence that plagues Oakland’s streets. UC Berkeley senior Vincent Choi was gunned down outside Dan Sung Sa, a Korean bar on the 2700 block of Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. His death is part of a recent wave of crime in the East Bay that has residents, students and officials concerned about safety.
A political science student, Choi was scheduled to graduate in May. According to Oakland Police and The Daily Californian, Choi and five friends were involved in an altercation with a group of eleven men and women outside the bar, when one member of that group pulled out a gun and opened fire. Choi was fatally shot and died on the scene, while two of his friends, one of whom is also a Cal student, were injured. A grad student instructor who taught Choi, told The Daily Californian that Choi wanted to be a police officer so that he could help people in need.
The murder of Choi came just days after the assassination of four Oakland police officers, and follows a stabbing outside of a fraternity house near the university and a series of sexual assaults on the south side of campus have caused concern among residents and officials. These crimes are part of an increase in the number of high profile crimes that have occurred in the Oakland/Berkeley area in the past several months.
On March 21, two Oakland police officers were killed in East Oakland as they conducted a traffic stop. Shortly thereafter, after receiving a tip from the public, police stormed an apartment building where the suspect, Lovelle Mixon, was hiding. Before he was killed, Mixon killed an additional two officers, including UC Berkeley alumnus Daniel Sakai.
Just two weeks earlier, a UC Berkeley fraternity member was stabbed at the corner of Piedmont Ave and Channing Way. According to bystanders quoted in The Daily Cal, the victim attempted to intervene in an altercation involving a woman and a man who was harassing her. The stabbing came in the wake of a series of 20 sexual assaults mainly on the Southside of campus. In most cases, a man approached women from behind and attempted to sexually assault them before fleeing in the opposite direction.
Students and residents alike have expressed a heightened concern for safety in the wake of the recent events. UC Berkeley freshman Taylor White told The Daily Cal about the heightened anxiety. “I have friends whose parents are calling and asking them if they’re okay,” she told the paper. “It’s definitely had an impact on our image in a negative way.”
Officials have also expressed concern about the impact recent criminal activity will have on the perception of the region. “I am greatly concerned that there may be a perception that UCPD is not doing enough to protect the safety and well-being of our campus and its members,” Dean of Students Jonathan Pollard told The Daily Californian, adding that he is concerned about the effect it may have on the decisions of students admitted to Cal deciding whether or not to enroll.
Safety was also a key issue during the ASUC elections held on the Berkeley campus during the second week of April. Dani Haber, the Student Action party candidate for External Vice President, which deals with issues outside the direct purview of the campus administration such as safety, supported more emergency call boxes on campus and increasing the number of police officers on foot and bicycle. One of her opponents, Joan Jones of the CalSERVE party, also highlighted safety, though offered few specifics. “Because of recent assaults on and around campus, the ASUC must do everything it can to ensure a safe campus,” she wrote on the party’s website.
But the call for more police presence has not been uniform. Some local residents and activists have complained in the aftermath of the police slayings that police may be part of the problem, not the solution. On the local liberal website Indybay.org, various posters have complained about the activities of police. “Oakland has a very clear publicly supported policy of police containment, implementing an incessant martial law with ever-present SWAT teams and police helicopters circling over neighborhoods daily. California’s prison population is the fourth largest in the entire world and the OPD does everything possible to feed young African men and women from Oakland into that system for their entire lives,” one poster wrote.
Regardless of the reasons for the latest round of criminal activity around UC Berkeley and the East Bay, police urge the public to remain vigilant and for students to take advantage of safety services such as Bear Walk and the night shuttles.
“UCPD encourages everyone to utilize the free safety program and services, such as the BearWalk Night Safety Escort, Owl Service, and the Night Safety Shuttles, and to exercise safety precautions during your travels on and around the campus,” the department wrote in an official release.