Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Too much left unsaid in J.J. Clavo killing

When it comes to the shooting death of Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, and the identification of his alleged killer three months later, what isn’t being said is just as important as what is being said.

We know that Clavo, a 17-year-old Grant Union High School football player, was killed in his car at 3:45 p.m. Nov. 13 at the busy intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street. We also know that Keymontae Lindsey, 16, has been charged in the brazen shooting, which stands out in a year in which violent crime has spiked in Sacramento.

What is said publicly is that the Del Paso Heights community rushed to the side of Nicole Clavo, mother of the victim, and stood by her in a time of unspeakable grief. Community leaders were with her Thursday at Sacramento police headquarters when it was announced that Lindsey would be charged as an adult. During a news conference, police Chief Sam Somers Jr. singled these leaders out for praise. So did Mayor Kevin Johnson, who said he was hit hard by this crime because it happened to a young man similar to the kid Johnson had been growing up in Oak Park more than 30 years ago.

As Johnson spoke of J.J. Clavo, the pain on his face told a story deeper than what his words could convey. Johnson could have been Clavo but for the sheer grace of fate. That fate is stronger than any success Johnson has achieved. The inspirational story of the mayor – and his years-long dedication to education – could do nothing to prevent Clavo and other kids like him from being killed on the same Sacramento streets that produced Johnson.

Somers made a point of stressing that J.J. Clavo was not the intended target when he was shot about a mile from Grant High. Clavo had driven four friends to get something to eat before a playoff football game and was on his way back to campus. Left unsaid was the motivation of the shooter. Another Grant football player, Malik Johnson, was shot in an arm and survived.

Also left unsaid was the significance of Clavo having been declared an innocent victim from the start of the investigation. In some Sacramento neighborhoods, crime victims become suspects before their autopsies are even performed. For people who live outside of Del Paso Heights, it would be easy to assume that a young man like Clavo had to have been doing something underhanded to get shot. A drug deal? A gang dispute?

One of the tools police used when investigating the Clavo killing was ShotSpotter, a technology that employs acoustic and optical sensors to locate the precise origin of a gunshot. In Sacramento, it’s used only in one area: at the North Sacramento confluence of Del Paso Heights and Strawberry Manor. Covering 3 square miles, ShotSpotter became operational in July and recorded more than 60 gunshots in that first month, Somers said.

As The Bee’s Philip Reese recently reported, violent crime has risen faster in Sacramento than in other large cities, according to an analysis released last week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. A separate Bee analysis of city police data in October found that the largest violent crime increases were in poverty-stricken areas of the city, particularly neighborhoods near Del Paso Boulevard and Mack Road.

The presumption that Clavo potentially played a role in his own demise also has been a preoccupation in Del Paso Heights. The question was asked repeatedly in the weeks after Clavo was killed. If police had confirmed this – if Clavo had been doing something dirty when he was killed – it would have made it easier for potential witnesses to withhold information. Why would witnesses risk their lives – and risk being shunned as “snitches” – for a kid up to no good? In Del Paso Heights, talking to the cops can bring reprisals as well as social isolation.

Police had been asking for months for witnesses to come forward. Residents pitched in to establish a $40,000 reward fund. Somers said in the end that witness statements were helpful in the case, but he declined to be specific. He said that a combination of ShotSpotter technology, which led police to the scene of the shooting before the first 911 call had been placed, and detective work were instrumental in Lindsey’s arrest. Somers added he believes others were involved in the shooting and expects more arrests.

Left unsaid was the number of witnesses from the community who presumably have not shared all they know.

At Thursday’s news conference, Nicole Clavo said she wanted to dedicate herself to breaking down the culture of silence in crimes such as her son’s killing. She has said more than once that if a white police officer had killed her son, the community would have been enraged and countless witnesses would have stepped forward. But with most crimes, silence follows as police officers try to solve the case.

The distrust of police fueled by officer-involved shootings across America surely has hindered the Clavo investigation and potentially has created cover for other suspects still at large. But where does the silence end? What does concealing information from police do in the long run? Who speaks for Clavo besides his mother?

The picture presented at the news conference was of police and community trying to work together to prevent more killings in the future. Left unsaid was that it’s never that simple. That scene from Thursday – of police leaders saluting the community leaders and of Clavo expressing love for those who have supported her – were sincere expressions of hope for a future in which violent predators are no longer allowed the cover provided by decades of mistrust for the police. That moment has not yet arrived. An innocent kid was killed. Suspects are still out there. And silence still is the rule of the day.

“I’ve had the whole city standing behind me while at the same time knowing that some members of the community were holding me back,” Clavo said. “The culture of not snitching is embedded into our youth and is passed down from generation to generation. Bad people have taken over through fear.”

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