OAKLAND -- As police continue to investigate the slaying of an SEIU Local 1021 official, people who knew Berresford "Berry" Bingham said they don't believe his death is linked to his union work.
Bingham, 64, was the community strength coordinator for the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents public employees. The former member of the Alameda school board had worked for SEIU for 17 years.
"(There was a report) that it may have been a union-motivated hit. That theory is being scoffed at. Nobody believes that for a second," said Mike Henneberry, the communications director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5.
Henneberry knew Bingham through the Central Labor Council, where both men were delegates. "There is nothing that would have come to the surface in my relationship with him that would have put him in the arena for something to go awry."
In Bingham's job at Local 1021, which was previously Local 616, he worked with organizations, such as Head Start, to strengthen ties between communities and the union, said Local 1021 field director Fran Jefferson. Bingham had previously been the political director at Local 616, which ceased operation about four years ago.
"Berry had a big heart. He cared very deeply for our members, the most for those who had the least," the SEIU Local 1021 said in statement. "He was a passionate advocate for home care workers throughout his time with SEIU."
Sgt. Gus Galindo said investigators are treating the slaying as a homicide, the 12th in Oakland this year. Police are not releasing how Bingham was killed because the case is under investigation.
Bingham's body was discovered by police in his townhouse in the 500 block of Henry Street in West Oakland about 11:35 a.m. Tuesday. Police went to the home after Bingham's son called the SEIU office saying he had been unable to reach his father for a few days. Two SEIU employees went to the home to check on him. They knocked on the door and no one answered, so they called police.
On Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by Bingham's three adult children, Kenya, Jovon and Brian, and his former wife, Kathy, family spokesman Dion Evans called for the killer to come forward. "The family has already forgiven you, but you do need to do right and come forward," said Evans, of Religionzine Media Group.
Bingham was a member of Greater St. Beulah Church of God in Christ in San Francisco for at least five years, said Bishop E. Charles Connor. Bingham also served as an elder at the church. Connor called Bingham an "unsung hero" and said he does not believe his union work is tied to his slaying.
"I can't imagine anything he would have been working on that would have brought him into harm's way," Connor said.
Connor said Bingham was active in the San Francisco church and had many friends there.
"He was a man who truly loved God. You could not find a man who loved people or God more than Bishop Bingham. His life reflected that."
Connor said his union work was a way of "serving God by serving people to make a better Oakland, a better Bay Area and a better America."
Bingham had gone through a divorce from his wife and had been living on Henry Street, about a block from the West Oakland BART station for about five months, neighbors said. Family spokesman Evans called him the "neighborhood dad."
"Who would hurt the neighborhood dad?" Evans said. "The community should do our own due diligence to make sure this violence does not happen again."
Connor described Bingham as a man who was savvy about his surroundings and careful around strangers. "I just don't see him opening his door to a stranger," he said. "Sometimes crimes are crimes of opportunity "... when you are in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person."
Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report.