Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Sacramento area’s deaths vary by race

Sacramento could be one incident away from exploding in the kind of strife that has afflicted other communities with vast racial disparities in poverty, health outcomes and mortality rates.

Law enforcement leaders know this is true, despite their best efforts to be out in the community and to establish a level of trust that would head off violent unrest similar to that in Ferguson, Mo.

There are strong connections, for example, between African American clergy and the Sacramento Police Department. But for all the community pride over Sacramento’s diversity, despair is concentrated in a few neighborhoods that many of us can blissfully avoid.

Violence and poverty are perennially high in Oak Park, Del Paso Heights, Valley Hi, Meadowview, North Highlands, Arden Arcade, Mack Road and in the stretch of south Sacramento near Fruitridge and Stockton boulevards. In these communities, African American children are dying at twice the rate of any other group.

This has been the case for years, a community embarrassment. When coupled with high rates of violent crime, school closures, unemployment and elevated school truancy rates, you have a tinder box vulnerable to a spark.

It can’t all be on law enforcement to keep the peace; others have to step up. On Tuesday, some did.

County Supervisor Phil Serna has been working quietly behind the scenes for two years to ready the county to put real money behind bending the curve of African American kids dying in Sacramento.

The numbers are sobering: Between 1990 and 2009, the county found that out of every 100,000 children, 102 African American kids died, compared to 48.5 white kids. The biggest killers were homicides, infant sleep-related deaths and child abuse. Of the homicides, the vast majority of victims were between 15 and 17.

“This constitutes a flagrant injustice,” said retired Superior Court Judge Rudolph “Barry” Loncke, who spoke at a county meeting on the topic convened on Tuesday by Serna. This June, the supervisors will be asked to spend a total of about $6 million on programs that address child welfare, probation, mental health and other risk factors.

County probation and other departments would also commit real money to bringing down the African American deaths. Serna challenged a packed supervisors chambers on Tuesday to hold him and others accountable if they fail to act despite the numbers and the need.

“Is this county willing to invest resources to (combat) that African American kids have been dying for decades at great rates?” Serna asked. By taking action now, the county could prevent unrest later.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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