Why are there so many gun-related killings in our most challenged Sacramento neighborhoods — Oak Park, North Sacramento, Del Paso Heights, South Sacramento and the Seavey Circle Housing communities? Lately, my answer to this question is one born of frustration and anger.
Last month, I attended the funeral of one of the six adults killed on that awful early-April Sunday right before dawn on K Street, just around the corner from City Hall.
During the service, I thought I would naturally be sad. Instead, I felt a sense of anger come over me. There I was, sympathizing with yet another Black family forced to mourn the loss of a loved one.
Far too often at funerals where violence is the cause of death, other families will console the grieving by saying, “I know what you are going through.” They, too, might have lost a son, brother, or uncle to gun violence.
So many of our Black families share the senseless loss of a loved one through violence. For every press conference, peace march, or vigil over yet another unnecessary death, we ask ourselves, ‘Why?’
I have grown emotionally distant from such questions. Instead, I have become angry, because I know one reason why these killings are happening: Sacramento has not invested in its youth in a consistent or organized way.
This has been the case in Sacramento for the last 20 years. We know this. I look at my own time as CEO of the Roberts Family Development Center, a recognized non-profit committed to and grounded in violence prevention. Many like-minded leaders dedicated to our youth in this region have called for a dedicated youth fund so that we can have the capacity to reach young people before their lives intersect with violent crime.
But our calls have not been answered — or they’ve been ignored or opposed by powerful interests for years.
In 2008, then County Supervisor Roger Dickinson and then-Sacramento City Councilmember Kevin McCarty pushed the idea of a gang tax, which would have set aside $5 million per year to address what was then a growing problem of violence in Sacramento.
One of the council members who voted against this measure, Lauren Hammond, represented Oak Park at that time. Go figure!
In 2012, the city of Sacramento passed the first Measure U sales tax increase. With that, we were promised support for violence prevention strategies. The hope of applying real funding to real problems helped pass Measure U the first time and then again in 2018.
Both tax increases, however, were dominated by funding public safety agencies and city services. There were Measure U investments in youth programs by the city, but not enough. A dedicated youth fund is needed because it would benefit those neighborhoods that are most in need. Meanwhile, violent crimes have increased and continue to be a threat to many neighborhoods in our city.
Several city council districts have seen record numbers of deaths and shootings of younger citizens. And it continues to rise.
Some community efforts by local foundations, such as Sierra Health’s Black Child Legacy campaign, have helped prevent some of the violence, but our city has been derelict in its duty to serve its citizens and its youth. Our city has not invested in helping youth as it should — not even close.
In 2020, I was part of the formation of a youth advocacy group: the Kids First Coalition. Our aim was to pass Measure G, a ballot initiative that went before city voters and sought to establish a $12 million fund for youth by requiring the city to dedicate 2.5% a year of the general fund.
Sadly, Measure G was defeated soundly at the ballot box after being opposed by city public safety agencies, my friend Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Councilmember Angelique Ashby, and many others.
How does that decision look now, as violence continues to rise in our most vulnerable communities?
Now, after all the deaths we’ve mourned, there is talk of a new youth investment plan potentially funded with cannabis revenue that comes to the city. I, for one, will not become too excited until it passes. History tells me, and others like me, that we have a reason to be skeptical and angry. We are tired of politics as usual in Sacramento. Our youth deserve better.
Derrell K. Roberts is the co-founder of the Roberts Family Development Center and a founding member of the Kids First Coalition.