Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Political rhetoric fails to address life on our streets

As Donald Trump devoured more news cycles in neighboring Nevada, two mothers embraced outside a Sacramento courtroom, though the son of one mother is accused of killing the son of the other.

What do these two stories have in common? Nothing.

That’s the problem for the people living in Sacramento and the nation, because they should intersect in some way.

Instead, the current presidential race seems hopelessly disconnected from the complexities and tragedies of everyday life on America’s streets.

Trump leads the charge of candidates who fire up their followers by appealing to their fears and prejudices.

His audiences are largely white and older, a world apart from the African American teenagers killing themselves on Sacramento’s streets.

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On Monday, 16-year-old Keymontae Lindsey was arraigned in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo in a courtroom at Sacramento Main Jail. Lindsey will be tried as an adult in the brazen killing at a busy North Sacramento intersection on Nov. 13.

The unspeakable depths of this story drew a large media presence that shocked Lindsey’s family.

They could be heard asking, why were there so many cameras? Was it because Clavo was a football player at Grant Union High School? Was Clavo the son of the mayor or some famous person?

“This is too much. Why are you taking my picture?” said Ranika Moore, Lindsey’s mother, to photographers training their lenses on her.

Nicole Clavo, the mother of the victim, has said people have asked her similar questions, to her face or on Facebook postings. People have told her that her son’s death has received too much attention.

Despite the Black Lives Matter movement across America, some have suggested that Clavo’s life shouldn’t matter so much this way.

“I don’t understand the mentality of people who are jealous of someone who is dead,” Clavo told me in December.

Combined with the lack of witnesses to the Clavo killing, even though many people saw it happen, a disturbing picture of Sacramento is right there if you care to see it. It’s just short ride from the state Capitol to the Del Paso Heights neighborhood where Clavo was killed.

Many people saw the crime happen in real time. Few have come forward. Community leaders said the code of the streets calls for silence and a mistrust of police, and that Lindsey belonged to a gang from the Strawberry Manor neighborhood.

Police officials have told me that rival gangs from Del Paso Heights and Strawberry Manor hunt each other on the streets. When Lindsey stepped into a cage where defendants hear charges against them in the jailhouse courtroom, the dismal picture was complete.

A tall, good-looking young man, Lindsey didn’t know how to address the judge. He repeatedly responded “yeah” to questions. That is, until Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jaime Román said, “Let’s do ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ not ‘yeah.’ 

The two mothers embraced before the arraignment, but Lindsey’s fled the courtroom without talking to reporters afterward. Clavo’s family was escorted to their cars several blocks away by sheriff’s deputies. The sight of them walking together in downtown Sacramento was heartbreaking.

There is probably a reason for deputies to guard the family of the victim. Witnesses to the Clavo killing have good reason to fear reprisals.

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The Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese reported last week that violent crime is rapidly escalating in Sacramento, that it “rose faster during the first six months of 2015 in Sacramento than in any of the 25 largest U.S. cities tracked in an annual FBI crime report.” He also reported that the spikes in violent crime are in the poor areas, “particularly neighborhoods near Del Paso Boulevard and Mack Road.”

Which brings me back to the race for the White House. I’ve listened long and hard for any message or signal about how to address this pernicious problem from Trump or his Republican challengers, and have heard nothing.

His message is of division. He says he wants to punch protesters of his message in the face, his followers cheer. He wants to build a wall to keep immigrants out, his followers cheer. He wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, his followers cheer.

His Republican rivals seem to be in a race to the bottom, attempting to score points by demonizing people different from those in their base.

The Democrats are mouthing the supportive words. Bernie Sanders says he wants to take on Wall Street but falls short of addressing racial disparities fueling social dislocation.

“Sanders’s basic approach is to ameliorate the effects of racism through broad, mostly class-based policies – doubling the minimum wage, offering single-payer health care, delivering free higher education,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award-winning African American writer.

“This is not a class divide, but a racist divide,” Coates wrote. “Mainstream liberal policy proposes to address this divide without actually targeting it, to solve a problem through category error.”

Coates is just as critical of Hillary Clinton.

These criticisms didn’t mean as much to me until the Clavo case laid bare how a separate and unequal world lives within short driving distance of those of us fortunate to live in safer neighborhoods.

At the heart of the Clavo case lies a sense of futility. A feeling of hopelessness in trying to prevent kids from pulling the triggers of guns easily obtained. These kids need jobs. They need to feel connected and invested, instead of doubting that life is precious.

Many good people are trying to change this dynamic in Del Paso Heights, including some of the police officers mistrusted by the community.

You want to believe that something can be done. But those of us in the media are relegated to swarming around two grieving mothers as they embrace under tragic circumstances.

We don’t come close to addressing the social, economic and racial forces causing kids to kill each other. And we cover the Trump circus without holding him and other candidates accountable for offering little to stop the bloodshed.

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