The Black Lives Matter debate tends to be framed as a national and moral issue, but it’s far less abstract in most communities. Take Sacramento. For five years, the county has been grappling with a statistic that is as unnerving as it is heartbreaking: Since at least 1990, African American children here have been about twice as likely to die as children of other racial and ethnic origins.
According to a report on Sunday by The Sacramento Bee’s Sammy Caiola, those numbers have persisted since 2011, when Supervisor Phil Serna began a push to bring them to public attention. Between 2010 and 2015, nearly a quarter of child deaths in the county were among African Americans, though black children make up only 11 percent of the population under 18.
In that tender cohort, deaths per 10,000 population were only 4.1 overall, only 3.6 for white kids, only 3 among Asian youths and only 2.9 for Hispanic children. But among black children, the rate was a stunning 9.1 per 10,000, far exceeding the state average.
And those deaths, to a shocking degree, stemmed from preventable causes. Indeed, more than half were attributable to poor prenatal and perinatal care and sleep-related deaths, such as those of newborns sharing beds with parents or siblings. Clearly, it’s long past time to address this issue meaningfully.
The good news is that public health workers worldwide have a long and successful track record in addressing some of these issues. Finland, to cite just one example, has one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates, thanks to a program that provides all mothers-to-be with cardboard bassinet boxes, so infants don’t accidentally smother in shared beds.
The county has launched a $26 million initiative to reduce child deaths by 2020. And Serna and others who have forced the issue – including some in the local Black Lives Matter movement – deserve praise.
The bad news is that not everyone has gotten the memo. Last month, for example, Serna’s fellow supervisors voted 3-2 to keep pumping general fund money into Sheriff Scott Jones’ wasteful and dangerous concealed-carry weapons giveaways rather than to redirect that money into home visits, parenting education and social service referrals for low-income parents.
In light of the lives lost last week, black and blue, underwriting guns over public health at the behest of an ambitious law enforcement official in a place where hard numbers clearly show the path forward is both ironic and a betrayal of the community.