Editor's note: On April 3, six people were killed and 12 injured in a mass shooting at K and 10th streets in Sacramento. Police say at least five shooters opened fire in the crowded nightlife district and say it was connected to a gang dispute, but have not provided any more details. While multiple people have been arrested in connection to the incident, none have been charged in the shooting. The mass casualty event is considered one of the worst in modern Sacramento history.
Former CapRadio Health Care Reporter and current gun violence prevention reporter at WHYY in Philadelphia Sammy Caiola reflected on the shooting and her experience covering the impact of gun violence in both cities.
I worked in Sacramento for eight years covering health, first for The Sacramento Bee and then for CapRadio. For me, the news of the K Street mass shooting earlier this month served as another painful reminder that gun violence is a public health issue — and if gone untreated, it will take the hardest toll on marginalized communities, which are cut off from the resources needed to stop the spread.
While in Sacramento, I covered many stories about health equity and toxic stress in marginalized communities. I interviewed Black and brown Sacramentans living in underfunded neighborhoods north and south of downtown, who told me they never had the luxury of feeling safe.
In 2016 I explored why Black children were dying at higher rates than white children in Sacramento County, largely from birth conditions, sleep incidents, child abuse and homicides, with the highest rates of death in Foothill Farms and Del Paso Heights. There are still major health disparities between neighborhoods: people in parts of North Sacramento have a life expectancy of just 70 years old, while those living east of the city are expected to live to 83.
And many experts say those disparities are an underlying cause of gun violence. I bring these disparities up because I’ve come to understand them as a primary driving factor of intra-community violence. When, in the wake of a mass shooting, people ask “Why did this happen?” they need look no further than a societal failure to help communities hardest hit by our nation’s racist history.
I moved to Philadelphia two months ago to take a job as a gun violence prevention reporter at NPR member station WHYY, following the city’s deadliest homicide year on record. In certain neighborhoods of Philadelphia, gun violence is a constant source of worry. When I go out to report, nearly everyone I talk to says they’ve heard gunfire on their streets, that they’re afraid to leave their homes at certain hours, or that one or more people they love has been struck by a bullet.
Residents of Sacramento’s under-resourced neighborhoods shared similar fears. They also talked to me about the lack of healthy grocery stores, clean recreational spaces, health clinics or even walkable streets — amenities shown to extend life spans for those fortunate enough to access them. I spoke often with a coalition of Black leaders called the Black Child Legacy Campaign, covering their calls to elected officials to spend as much energy revitalizing these neighborhoods as they do on Sacramento’s downtown core.
In Philadelphia, Black men comprised three quarters of both shooting fatalities and total victims. I’ve spoken with about 50 Black youth mentors, faith leaders and violence interrupters in the last two months. I’ve met mothers who lost their children to bullets, and guys who served time for organized crime and now work to prevent future bloodshed. They all tell me the same thing: preventing gun violence must start with helping the people pulling the triggers, and improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods where shootings happen most.
In Sacramento, community violence prevention advocates are echoing that message. The Black Child Legacy Campaign, the same coalition that was tackling Black child mortality back in 2016, wrote an open letter to Sacramento elected officials in reaction to the recent tragedy:
“We are deeply frustrated that violence prevention has not been addressed with the urgency this crisis deserves. For the past six years, our coalition of community leaders and crisis intervention workers has supported our neighbors impacted by the traumas of violence, poverty and racism."
BCLC leaders, Philadelphia leaders combating gun violence and public health experts have all told me that prevention requires building, and consistently supporting, a cadre of credible messengers who can do the boots-on-the-ground work of stopping shootings before they happen, as well as address the community trauma that surfaces in the aftermath of violence.
In their letter, the coalition also called for more support for gun violence victims including “access to mental health services, ongoing wraparound care, burial support, and a feeling of safety and community.”
“Every day we engage in crisis intervention, mediation, mentorship and service… Our long-term work, which predates the coalition for many of us, is how we know how vital it is the city and county immediately expand community-led violence prevention and crisis response services.”
Like so many public health crises, gun violence is often addressed only when it’s reached emergency levels. People pay attention when there are bullets on the ground and body bags on the television. Those living in the suburbs get the mistaken idea that the problem has nothing to do with them.
But festering rage, desperation and trauma can easily creep beyond wherever the conflict started and into areas where they become a threat to everyone. That’s what happened on K Street in Sacramento during the early morning of April 3. The phrase “hurt people hurt people,” is true in every American city. It’s a vicious cycle, but it can be interrupted.
In Philadelphia, community leaders are calling for more investment in after school programs, recreation centers, crisis intervention teams, one-on-one mediation and gang violence deterrent programs. They want more employment opportunities, mental health services, housing assistance and any other resources that might keep those at risk of becoming gun violence victims or perpetrators out of the streets. They’re asking everyday people to donate to nonprofits doing this work and calling on city officials to follow through on their promises and invest in evidence-based solutions to gun violence.
Violence prevention advocates tell me the programs that the City of Philadelphia has been rolling out to address the crisis have not gone far enough. Conversations around how much funding to allocate to programs designed to prevent shootings are paramount in current discussions about the city’s 2023 budget.
Sacramento has seen some success tackling gun violence. Between 2018 and 2019 there were zero youth homicides within city limits. But community leaders said gang violence began to rise again during the pandemic, in part because of a lack of programs that help teens stay on a safe path. When they called for more investment from the city in the fall of 2020, Mayor Darrell Steinberg vowed to put a portion of coronavirus relief funding toward youth programs and libraries in low-income neighborhoods, and to improve safety features such as lighting and security cameras in parks in those areas.
Despite that, gun homicides are up 50% in Sacramento County since 2018 to 2019.
Gun violence is not a problem that can be solved overnight — not by Sacramento, Philadelphia or any other city grappling with the crisis. But it is preventable, and those at the center of it argue more investment in underlying causes such as racism, poverty and health inequity is the first step.
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