Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: The grim toll of too many young homicide victims

Students take part in a candlelight vigil honoring Jaulon Clavo at Grant High School last Saturday.
Students take part in a candlelight vigil honoring Jaulon Clavo at Grant High School last Saturday.

Every senseless killing is tragic, but it just seems more heartbreaking when young lives are cut short before they really start.

Sacramento has had an awful reminder with the fatal shooting of Jaulon “JJ” Clavo, a Grant High School football player and 17-year-old senior.

We shouldn’t only feel sad; we should be outraged. Too many young people will be missing from too many family gatherings for Thanksgiving.

In 2013, 653 10- to 24-year-olds in California were victims of homicide, the second most common cause of death in that age group, according to the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Only accidents, mostly car crashes, killed more.

Not surprisingly, firearms (mainly handguns) were far and away the most common weapon used, accounting for 83 percent of killings where a weapon was identified. It also didn’t surprise me that much that 9 in 10 of California’s young homicide victims were male, or that homicide rates for African American and Latino youth are significantly higher than those for whites and Asians.

But I was shocked at how astronomically high the murder rates actually are for young black men – 18 times higher than for young white men, according to the study.

In fact, homicide is the leading cause of death for black youths in California. Let that sink in for a minute.

More than 40 percent of all homicide victims in California last year were ages 18 to 29, as were 57 percent of those arrested, according to the state Department of Justice.

The report also says 30 percent of all homicides in which contributing factors were known were gang-related. In Sacramento and cities across the state, police, clergy, community groups and others are all trying to get a handle on youth gangs. It’s obvious more needs be done.

Overall, California’s youth homicide rate ranked 17th highest among the states in 2013. Digging into unpublished state data, the Violence Policy Center also ranked California’s counties. Several in the Central Valley are among the 10 worst; Sacramento ranked 13th highest for 2013, with 29 young people slain.

While the number of young homicide victims in California has generally declined over the last decade, along with the overall number, violent crime is spiking this year in Sacramento and many other cities. The youth homicide numbers will likely increase as well, and history tells us that minority communities will be hit hardest.

Clavo, who had plans to go to college, will be part of those statistics, the 14th teenager killed in Sacramento County this year. As of Friday, no one had been arrested. Like too many slayings, his is going unsolved for far too long.

There have been marches and candlelight vigils, and some community leaders say his death should be a turning point. That’s been said many times before, in many places after many slayings. I hope it’s true this time.

When you think of all the young homicide victims, you can only feel horrible for their families and friends. You also have to wonder what they would have accomplished in their lives. We’ll never know.

By the numbers

Homicide rates (per 100,000) in 2013 for 10- to 24-year-olds, and rankings statewide among the 35 largest counties:

  • 3. San Francisco, 19.94
  • 5. Merced, 19.39
  • 7. Stanislaus, 13.32
  • 10. San Joaquin, 10.42
  • 11. Los Angeles, 10.10
  • 13. Sacramento, 9.58
  • Statewide, 8.22
  • 16. Fresno, 8.35
  • 22. San Diego, 4.11
  • 27. El Dorado, 2.95
  • 31. Yolo, 1.67

Source: Violence Policy Center

Reward fund

To donate to the reward fund in the Jaulon Clavo case, go to any Wells Fargo branch and ask for Account 6863723216. Or write a check payable to Roberts Family Development Center with JJ Reward Account on the memo line and mail to 770 Darina Ave., Sacramento, CA 95815.