Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Police need public’s help to curb gun violence

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

From the comfort of safe neighborhoods, Sacramento’s spate of violence last week – 18 shooting victims in roughly 48 hours that included four fatalities – can seem like a distant disturbance.

It can also give the impression that Sacramento is not as safe as it was in the last decade, when statistics show the opposite is true.

Or it can be quickly forgotten – which would be the worst outcome of all, though that is what we do in Sacramento.

In fact, it’s what we’ve already done. We have moved on because most of us don’t have skin in this game of violence centered mostly in a few hot spots in Sacramento – and carried out by people as heartbreakingly young as they are dangerous to each other.

By the end of last week, news of Sacramento’s bloody weekend before St. Patrick’s Day had fizzled out.

Maybe it will take a gang war, which very well could erupt in Sacramento this summer given the signs we’ve seen, before we’re jolted out of our comfort by the callous disregard for life on darkened streets.

On Friday night, I walked those streets with several church pastors and people of faith as they fanned out on a chilly evening near Mack Road and Center Parkway – the nerve center of the violence a week ago.

Rebecca Martinez, 36, walked with a surgical boot on her right foot. It was her first night back on the streets since being shot March 7 at 46th Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

What was she doing when she was shot?

“We were standing in a prayer circle,” said Martinez, a member of Victory Outreach Church in south Sacramento. “A car came around a corner and started shooting at people (in a nearby apartment complex) … They started shooting back. We got caught in a cross fire.”

Martinez was lucky. The bullet didn’t destroy any bones or major arteries. She said a friend who wasn’t as lucky remains hospitalized with a shattered femur.

Did she see who shot her?

“I didn’t want to look,” she said. “I didn’t want them to think I saw them.”

Martinez said she didn’t want the shooters to come looking for her.

Her instinctive reaction to avert her gaze when the bullets began to fly is symbolic of the code of silence that is killing people in Sacramento.

While a broader community shrugs its shoulders and moves on a few days after the violence, a code of silence endures among people who saw what happened.

Authorities say victims are unresponsive and disinterested in pursuing any form of justice. Witnesses close their doors and windows.

As I walked with church leaders on Friday, it was easy to see shutters slamming closed as we approached. Some pedestrians glared at us and others looked away as the greetings of church people were not answered.

We entered an apartment complex on Mack Road where three people had been shot in one attack on March 16 and we found little more than eerie silence on a Friday night when many people would typically be out.

A lot of people saw us from their windows. They stayed away.

Details of last weekend’s shootings are still emerging and we may discover among them a random crime, some domestic disputes that turned deadly and the kind of late-night violence that one sees in a big city.

As it happens, around the time I was driving home at 11 p.m. Friday, shots were fired in the 4600 block of Stockton Boulevard – roughly 6 miles from where I had been.

Police said one person was shot and two suspects were arrested. Two handguns and narcotics were recovered, police said.

Earlier in the day, police said they had made four arrests potentially related to last weekend’s violence – including one suspect who was a victim of an assault the week before.

But ringleaders of the violence are still out there, police say. Now it’s a matter of piercing the wall of silence to develop information that can lead to their arrests. They are carrying out crimes in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Sacramento – neighborhoods with the highest poverty and crime levels.

Overall, property crime is down across the city in the last decade, according to police. Violent crime is also down. But when police separated shootings from other violent crimes, it was discovered that they are nearly 20 percent higher than at this time last year.

Sacramento’s last major burst of crime occurred in 2006, when gang disputes turned deadly. There were 5,556 violent crimes that year compared to 3,137 in 2013, according to police figures.

After last weekend, 2014 is off to a disturbing start.

“Our city needs hope,” Martinez said when asked why she was out doing community outreach only two weeks after being shot.

Our city does need hope.

At 1:30 a.m. Saturday, police received a report of gunfire on River Bend Circle, near Interstate 5 just south of Broadway.

Police gang detectives responded. They found one man who had been shot. He died at 21.