Deadly Sins

City Hall can’t duck Downtown horrors

By R.E. Graswich
May 2022

They needed to say something with six bodies scattered around the sidewalk at 10th and K streets. So Darrell Steinberg and Katie Valenzuela took shelter in the safest place they knew. They blamed guns.

With an actor’s studied passion, Steinberg spoke of broken hearts and school shootings. Valenzuela, newer at this sort of performance, tearfully described a phone call at 2:30 a.m. and waded into the weeds of the nation’s fascination with armaments.

What the mayor and City Council member didn’t discuss were strategies to keep Downtown streets safe. They offered no ideas about preventing future massacres like the one that sent 18 casualties to local hospitals and the county morgue on a dark Sunday morning in April.

Even more insulting, Steinberg and Valenzuela pretended the mayhem shocked them. Really? Nothing has become more predictable in Downtown Sacramento than the occasional deadly shootout. Even a dense politician can’t feign surprise about the routine.

One week before Christmas at 20th and K streets, several men left a bar, fell into disagreements, retreated to their cars, secured artillery and began shooting. When police arrived, one man was lying in the street, bleeding from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead.

Cops described the scene as “some type of disturbance between two groups that escalated into the shooting.” The participants were gang members, authorities concluded.

Last July, police rushed to the Old Sacramento Waterfront and found six people bleeding in the street. Two were dead, four wounded. Using amorphous language that has become boilerplate—a cut and paste job—cops explained, “There was some type of altercation between two groups before the shooting and multiple firearms have been recovered at the scene.”

Sound familiar? The December and July fusillades were preliminary bouts to the murderous main event witnessed in April on 10th Street. But other than crowd size and victim counts, these three tragedies were identical. The mayor and City Council should have seen the horrors coming. They took no serious action.

Here’s how the violence comes together:

Start with crowded streets in entertainment districts. Add gang members and their friends out for a good time, mixing with civilians. Suddenly, a fight starts, followed by a mad dash to vehicles where gangsters store their weapons. Shots fired. People dead and wounded, often not because they were involved but because they were in the wrong place (Downtown) at the wrong time (when bars are crowded or closing).

As casualties grow, patterns become inescapable. Resolution is defiant. The mayor and City Council have no easy options, so they search for distractions, deflect the blame and point to weak gun laws, even though California has some of the toughest in the nation.

“This senseless epidemic of guns violence must be addressed,” Steinberg says, neatly absolving himself and his city from responsibility. Coincidentally, the mayor is a champion of mental health expenditures. Here he finds another opportunity.

Steinberg wants more dollars for mental health outreach to young people, a reasonable segue because only an insane person would shoot into a crowd. “It is a sickness in our culture, and we have to do everything we can to cure that sickness,” he says.

Realities crush the mayor’s musings. He knows guns won’t disappear. Regardless of the destruction they bring, guns are embedded in our laws and psyche. As for mental health, it’s foolish to believe a frayed bureaucracy can succeed where society failed.

Which leaves the mayor and City Council with tough choices about matters they can control: entertainment licenses and hours, security requirements, police budgets and deployments.

Steinberg avoids those choices. “We don’t want to shut down, that would be the wrong response,” he says. Maybe so, but the City Council must take serious, thoughtful steps to make Sacramento safe.

Responsibility for the horrors of April, December and July rests with the men who pulled the triggers. This doesn’t mean the city should make it so easy for them.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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