Street Vendors Slow to React to Sniper Attacks

by Steed Dropout
May 21, 2014

When a Berkeley BB sniper began firing on Telegraph Avenue street vendors on two successive weekends, beginning May 10, the vendors were slow to react, they admitted to this reporter. Plastic BBs, the size of Tic Tacs, bounced off or whizzed-by them, they said.

BBs, once were copper, heavy, and dangerous. Now they’re plastic light-weights; but still dangerous.

“We didn’t even know what was happening,” on the weekend of the first attack, a vendor told me. “All we knew was that hundreds of BBs buzzed us. We didn’t call police because we didn’t even know where the shots were coming from.”

Another vendor explained, “we didn’t want to ruin some guy’s life.”

Sniper rented room here. Photo by Ted Friedman.

One of the vendors, assisted by other vendors, retrieved hundreds of the tiny round pellets from the twisted sidewalks and gnarly Telegraph Avenue. He told me he would use the BBs in one of his Dungeons and Dragons-themed plastic sculptures.

But when, on the second weekend attack, a visitor from LA ran for cover and a baby carriage was hit (but not the baby), vendors reacted.

Shots from window, right. Photo by Ted Friedman.

They called police when a tee-shirt vendor spotted the attack-site, a corner room in a nearby mostly student hotel (Hotel Carlton) across the street from his stand. “I’m a former Marine,” he told me, “and I felt like storming his room and dragging him [the sniper] out of there by his hair.”

Breath mint-like weapon. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Berkeley Police brought out the perp, hooded in a “spit mask,” which protects cops from sputtered spit. They also retrieved two assault-style BB rifles and a bag bulging with 1,500 BBs. Cops displayed the cache to vendors, one of whom–a Vietnam veteran machine-gunner–told me the assault-style BB rifle seemed real. Another vendor said the rifle’s electronics had been altered to turn the weapon into a machine-gun.

Vendor Victims. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Vendors also learned, from police, that the perp, thought to be a 20-year-old UC Berkeley engineering student, had rented his room for only two weeks. “We have a scenario here,” one cop was overheard saying. Scenario is a police academy meme for hypothetical situation. A district attorney will have to decide whether the attack was a rehearsal for a terrorist attack or a finals week blow-off.

A likeness of assault BB rifle used in attacks--Google.

A much different version of this piece will appear in an upcoming issue of Berkeley Times as a South Side Tale.

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