SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Residents and community leaders in California’s capital city have been struggling to make sense of Sunday’s mass shooting for nearly three days.
It’s Sacramento's second such tragedy in less than two months, and it has sparked calls for increased gun control measures and mental health services.
But the solution to gun violence is not an “A or B” scenario, said Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor and gun violence expert at the University of California, Davis.
“Yes, it’s A, but it’s also B through T,” he said. “The danger is in believing that we have to choose between guns and mental illness or longer prison terms. The answer is we need to do a lot of things all at once.”
Wintemute is part of a growing chorus of researchers and community organizers fighting to prevent tragedies like Sunday’s shooting through research and outreach rather than by relying solely on punitive measures.
According to a study published in January by Wintemute and his colleagues at UC Davis' Center for Violence Prevention Research, nearly two-thirds of Californians reported at least one experience of gun violence in their communities. More than 10 percent of respondents reported three or more experiences with firearm violence.
“Even the cops know you can’t police your way out of this,” said Mervin Brookins, the founder of Brother 2 Brother Mentoring, a Sacramento-based nonprofit group.
“A lot of our young men need guidance,” he said. “A lot of our young men need help figuring out how to make better choices in their lives, and unfortunately, that’s not happening.”
Brookins, with the help of other community activists, has organized youth pop-up events at places like Arden Fair mall, a popular spot for teenagers that has been plagued with violent fights in recent years, including the shooting deaths of two brothers.
To curb the violence, the city started funding pop-up programs in 2019.
Community activist Tyler McClure, who mentors youths alongside Brookins, said he frequently attends the events and notices when adults are missing.
“Fights happen when we’re not there,” he said. “We just talk to young people, give them some gift cards, give them some wisdom, tell them how to carry themselves. They do listen.”
Echoes of Sunday’s shooting continued to reverberate throughout downtown Sacramento on Tuesday. Less than three blocks from the state Capitol, candles, flowers and balloons marked the corners where six people were killed and 12 others were wounded shortly after last call.
Alaye Reed heard the sirens before she knew that her childhood friend DeVazia Turner had been killed.
Reed said she and Turner grew up attending the same summer camp at a local community center. The families were close, “running around together” first in the park as children and then later as adults celebrating life milestones.
The last time Reed and Turner saw each other was five years ago, when Reed moved into a new apartment and Turner dropped off a housewarming present.
Now, Reed was leaving flowers for Turner.
“This is someone’s dad. Someone’s son, brother,” she said at a sidewalk memorial honoring her friend. “It makes no sense at all.”
Two people were arrested in connection with the shooting Tuesday morning. Detectives “identified a man who was seen carrying a gun in the immediate aftermath of the shooting” before they later “recovered a handgun and arrested” Daviyonne Dawson, 31, Sacramento police said.
Prosecutors last year fought to keep Smiley Martin in prison, calling him a danger to the community, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Danielle Abildgaard wrote in a letter obtained Tuesday by NBC News.
He was released last summer after having spent three years in prison, nowhere close to a 10-year sentence, for domestic violence.
“In this community, we’ve done so much to pretend issues that are in lower-income areas will never be the issues of areas like here in downtown Sacramento, with more prestige,” said Berry Accius, a community activist and the founder of Voice of the Youth, a nonprofit mentorship group.
As in other parts of the country, violence is rising in Sacramento County, which recorded its highest number of homicides in four years in 2020, with 100 homicides, compared to 78 in 2019 and 71 in 2018, according to the state Justice Department.
Across the state, homicides were up by 31 percent in 2020. Nearly 83 percent of homicide victims were men, and almost 40 percent of homicides in which locations were reported occurred on the street or the sidewalk, according to the state data.
Sunday’s shooting fit that pattern. The Sacramento County coroner’s office identified the victims as Sergio Harris, 38; DeVazia Turner, 29; Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32; Johntaya Alexander, 21; Yamile Martinez-Andrade, 21; and Melinda Davis, 57.
On Tuesday, Brookins shook his head as he regarded Harris’ sidewalk memorial. Harris had been out with friends and Turner, later identified as his cousin, when a fight spilled into the streets. Brookins knew both Harris and Turner.
“The answers are not complex,” he said. “We know that if you take these kids out of the city and to college, they won’t look back.”
Brookins and McClure are helping organize a college visit for 10 students this spring. They plan to visit universities in Tennessee, Alabama and Atlanta.
Brookins was at a fundraiser for the trip when he got a call that tragedy had struck, he said. He raced to the scene and spent Sunday morning communicating with law enforcement officers and community members.
McClure said he waited to visit the scene, overwhelmed by loss and frustration over inaction and empty promises from city officials.
“It’s too much. The city is suffering,” he said.
McClure added: “This isn’t a ‘what could have been done that night’ question. It’s a ‘what could we have done five years ago, 10 years ago’” question.