Kelley was shot at People’s Park in April—the first ever murder to occur in the Park.
A memorial for Kelley at the picnic bench where he was shot.
A memorial for Kelley at the picnic bench where he was shot. (Alastair Boone)

At 2:45 p.m. on April 26, 2019 Calvin Kelley was shot in the back of the head while sitting in People’s Park. He died later that evening from his wounds. The killing of a regular has jarred the park community during a month of celebrations for its 50th anniversary.

Kelley—known to many as Cal— was a fixture of life in People’s Park. He frequented the Park daily, playing dominos or chess at the picnic table where he was slain. He was 43 years old and the father of four children
all under 18. According to his sister, Porshia Garvin, he had been a regular at the Park for 21 years. “Calvin was always in the Park. If we wanted to know where Calvin was, we went to the Park,” she told Berkeleyside.

The University of California Police Department have identified the suspected killer as Stefon Jefferson, a 43-year-old who is also suspected
of killing two other men on Friday. Those victims were Marcus Jackson, 57, a longtime Berkeley Public Works employee who was shot in Oakland, and Laron Davis, 49, who was shot in San Francisco. Jefferson was related to both Jackson and Davis. He was not related to Kelley, though the two were acquaintances.

Kelley’s murder was the first ever killing to occur in People’s Park. Jefferson was arrested in Nevada on Friday night. He has been charged with attempted murder, among other crimes.

Witnesses who were in the Park when Kelley was shot describe the incident in detail.

‘I looked at the shooter and said, ‘what have you done?’’

Jefferson “double parked his car on Dwight Way. Then went to the bushes to take a piss, and then he came back with his pants way down showing
his underwear,” recalled Roosevelt Stephens, a regular at the Park. Jefferson’s eyes were wide and glossy, like he was high, witnesses said. Stephens was sitting at a picnic table just yards away, drawing. “I saw him go toward Cal, go up behind him and shoot him in the head. It was cold-blooded.” Stephens later sketched a facial composite for the police, which they used to identify Jefferson.

Another People’s Park regular who identified himself as Michael was also present when Kelley was shot. “I was standing right there. I looked over and he had the gun to my friend’s head,” Michael said. He remembers the shooter saying, “People are trying to set me up,” and “We ain’t cool no more.” Then he pulled out his gun.

“I didn’t even have time to run,” Michael said. “I looked at the shooter and said, ‘what have you done?’”

UCPD Lt. Bill Kasiske told reporters that while acts of violence are common in People’s Park, shootings are not.

People’s Park regulars feel strongly that this incident was a one-off occurrence, which is not reflective of the typical climate in the Park. “There have been fights and differences in the Park, but it’s never come down to this. We take care of each other,” Stephens said.

Stephens says that Jefferson had been to the Park several times before, though the day of the shooting was the first time he had seen him in two or three years. In the past, Jefferson would occasionally drop off clothes and food for Park regulars. “I never imagined that he would do something like this,” Stephens said.

The event has sent ripples throughout the Park, causing frequent visitors to feel on edge. A number of people described a sense of exhaustion at having to size up every new person who enters the Park—a safety measure that felt unnecessary before Kelley’s murder.

“It has been very traumatic, because we don’t typically feel in danger,” said another Park regular named Marte. “I’m pretty sure Cal didn’t feel in danger either.”

On April 29, there was an open-air vigil around the bench where Kelley was shot. Several members of his family attended. They decorated the table where he played chess with flowers and tea lights spelling out the words “RIP Calvin.” His sister Porshia Garvin told Berkeleyside that Kelley is the second of their five siblings to be killed by gunshots. His older brother, Mark, was killed at the age of 24.

Kelley could be found at the same place every day: a wooden picnic table on the west end of the Park where he played chess and dominos, and chat- ted with other Park regulars, learning about their pasts, their beliefs, and their goals for the future.

“It’s just every day. That’s the guy I played chess with every day,” Michael said. “He knew my dream. He believed in it.”

Among those mourning is a UC Berkeley student named Sadushi, who first met Kelley in November of 2018 when she explored People’s Park for the first time.

“He was really funny and he had the best laugh. You knew it was Cal laughing when he was laughing,” said Sadushi. “Cal was the first person who talked to me. I started coming back to hang out with him and he introduced me to other people.”

Kelley and Sadushi became good friends, and he showed her around Berkeley. They walked throughout the city, adventuring to San Pablo Park and to Cal basketball games. “He knew and loved Berkeley better than anyone I know,” she said.

Sadushi remembers Kelley as a peaceful person who was known and respected by everyone in People’s Park. She describes him as having
a powerful presence without being loud. He loved sports and took great pride in his children, relishing any opportunity to go to their athletic events. He had many goals for the future, such as buying a house.

“Cal was Berkeley to me. Without him there is no Berkeley,” she said.
“I feel like this whole city has lost a part of itself.” Then, after a pause, she spoke again. “At the same time, I was here until late last night, after everybody left,” she said, gesturing to picnic table where he used to sit. “I feel like his spirit is still right here.”

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.