Erika D. Smith

Erika D. Smith: All lives must matter in Sacramento

A man stands on the lawn of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., during a rally. Many cities’ officials dread the sight of “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts, but Sacramento isn’t most cities.
A man stands on the lawn of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., during a rally. Many cities’ officials dread the sight of “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts, but Sacramento isn’t most cities. The Associated Press

In most cities, elected officials hate to see them coming. The people in the “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts.

They’re usually angry, impatient and inconsolable in their quest for justice, usually mobilizing only after a questionable confrontation between a person of color and a police officer has been captured on video. The elected officials do what they can, but, in the end, everyone usually loses as the truth gets overwhelmed by silly arguments over whose lives actually matter: Black lives? Cops’ lives? All lives?

Fortunately, Sacramento isn’t most cities.

Here, the Black Lives Matter T-shirts signal an effort to work with elected officials to reduce the number of black children who die in disproportionate numbers each year. A diverse group of activists filed into a Sacramento County supervisors meeting earlier this month, asking for a final blessing on a plan to do just that.

Orginally commissioned by the county, the plan will bombard six high-risk neighborhoods with services over the next five years. If it’s effective, it will reduce child deaths from perinatal conditions, from abuse and neglect, from crib death and other unsafe sleeping conditions, and from homicide by 10 percent to 20 percent.

After getting the widely expected go-ahead from supervisors, dozens of people in Black Lives Matter T-shirts spoke.

One woman talked about the kids she takes in who are too afraid to go home, kids who live in rough neighborhoods and who don’t have enough to eat. More than one brought sons and daughters to the microphone, and thanked the supervisors for their financial support for the plan.

On Tuesday night, many of those same people will fill the seats in front of the Sacramento City Council.

Led by Supervisor Phil Serna and the co-chairs of a county-funded steering committee, they’ll go over the implementation plan in hopes of getting the same kind of support from the city. The goal is to build a stronger partnership and maybe even, down the road, secure some funding to help administer the plan.

The council should support this plan – and in a big way.

It’s the right thing to do. For the past 20 years, black children have died at two times the rate of other kids in Sacramento County. There’s no excuse for that.

Also, the council really doesn’t have much choice. The city is in the midst of a wave of violent crime in high-poverty neighborhoods and doing something to remedy the conditions that allow crime to flourish is only smart.

Through August, Sacramento reported more than 2,500 murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults – a 24 percent jump from the same period last year and more than any year since 2010. That includes 35 homicides, more than the city has seen during the first nine months of any year since 2008. Property crime, which includes burglaries, larcenies and car thefts, is up, too.

Why this is happening isn’t really clear. There are lots of theories, including a possible rise in gang activity and the fallout from Proposition 47, which reduced many nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

The only thing that is clear is where violent crimes are happening most. That’s in North Sacramento’s Patrol District 2, which includes Del Paso Heights, Robla and Del Paso Boulevard, and in south Sacramento’s Patrol District 5, which includes Meadowview, Valley Hi and Mack Road.

Coincidentally – or maybe not so coincidentally – those are some of the same neighborhoods where black children and teenagers are dying at horrific rates.

The six neighborhoods that will get help under the “Reduction of African American Child Deaths” plan include Valley Hi and Meadowview, North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights, Arden-Arcade, Oak Park, North Highlands and Foothill, and Fruitridge/Stockton Boulevard.

These are neighborhoods full of Sacramento families that need help. Children who need help.

If those in the Black Lives Matter movement are willing to step up, which they are, city officials, like county supervisors, should do everything they can to support them. Because all lives matter.

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