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South Sacramento Residents Say Stephon Clark's Death Is About Racial Equity and Economic Justice

Vanessa Nelson / Capital Public Radio

Kitamu Oakley in her Meadowview neighborhood. She says Sacramento has long neglected Meadowview and places like it, and wonders if that will change after the shooting of Stephon Clark.

Vanessa Nelson / Capital Public Radio

The walk from the corner market to Kitamu Oakley’s apartment complex is scorching even in the spring. Trees are sparse in this South Sacramento neighborhood, and the sidewalk is cracked, with clumps of grass poking through. The 41-year-old mother of five has spent most of her life in Meadowview, just blocks from where Stephon Clark was shot by police on March 18.

His death ignited weeklong protests about officer accountability and all sorts of responses among residents. Oakley said the city has long neglected Meadowview and places like it, and wonders if that will change after the shooting.

“Are they going to truly listen and do what they need to do to correct the situation?” she asked. “It’s horrible living out here.”

That could be changing in the wake of the shooting. Clark’s death has sparked outrage and demands for police accountability. But people are also looking at the bigger problem: the lack of resources in Sacramento’s communities of color.

Stephon Clark’s brother Ste’Vante Clark, for instance, has called for libraries, resource centers and other aid to Meadowview. A new movement called Build Black also formed just days after the shooting to call for more equitable investment of public funds.

Chet Hewitt is president of the nonprofit Sierra Health Foundation, one of the leading groups behind Build Black. He said police walk into these neighborhoods with certain assumptions, and that can lead directly to these types of shootings.

“The treatment of a black man in a community that’s not considered to be affluent — and the assumptions that go along with what their behavior must have been like and what their response could ultimately be — that has led to this political tragedy,” he said.

People in South Sacramento — as well as Del Paso Heights, North Highlands, Arden Arcade and Oak Park — experience unique levels of disparity around education, job opportunity, housing and more. And it takes a toll on health: Residents in these ZIP codes have higher rates of hospitalization for diabetes, asthma and assault-related injuries than the county on the whole.

One report from the Sierra Health Foundation found that more than a third of children in Meadowview live in poverty, and more than a fifth of residents are unemployed. Experts have labeled it a food desert, because of the scarcity of healthy food options.

Disparities in South Sacramento

Residents in South Sacramento zip codes have higher rates of unemployment and are less likely to have health insurance. (Source: Census 2016 American Community Survey)

 

He said the community’s frustration with the lack of investment has been rising to a boiling point since the city put $250 million into the new Kings arena. “This is the fuse to a powderkeg that’s been growing for a very long time.”

“People who’ve been waiting for their renaissance for far too long, this sense of a lack of fairness — inequity being lived out in their daily lives — is very powerful, and we’re at a point where people are willing to demand that change happens,” Hewitt said.

This isn’t the first time the community has brought its concerns forward. More than three years ago, neighborhood leaders asked the county to help reduce African-American child deaths, which occur disproportionately in impoverished neighborhoods. The county dedicated $26 million to the effort. The city put in just $750,000.

Some of the county money was given to the Sierra Health Foundation, which distributed it to nonprofit hubs. Those hubs started tackling prenatal conditions, unsafe sleep, homicide and other causes of death with free classes, job trainings, arts events and more. They call the project the Black Child Legacy Campaign.

“We want reform, we want the value of life to be more than broken windows of a vehicle or a back door,” said Pastor Les Simmons, who leads the campaign for the Valley Hi neighborhood. “We want people to live and grow and thrive and have kids.”

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he plans to create a multibillion dollar Capital Equity Fund for this purpose. He said funds from Measure U, a sales tax partially dedicated to gang prevention, are also a possibility.

"The Stephon Clark shooting is about so much more,” he said. “We need to address the systemic issues around poverty, around inequality, around investing in job creation in Meadowview."

But it’s going to take more than a vision to convince people like Kitamu Oakley.

“Ain’t no basketball stars comin around here,” she said. “It’s never going to happen for somebody like me, and it’s never going to happen for a lot of somebody like me’s out here. The Cinderella story doesn’t happen for us.”

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