Kia Lewis lives on 29th Street, not far from where Stephon Clark was killed in his grandparents backyard. Her eight-year-old son attends the nearby Edward Kemble Elementary School, and during a recent visit she pointed out the peeling paint and dated playground.
“But you should also see the inside of those classrooms,” Lewis added. “It’s not a lot resources, down to the books. They [students] don’t even go to the library.”
Lewis, who is pregnant with her second son, says Clark’s death at the hands of police frightened her.
“I got to worry about my husband, I got to worry about my sons,” Lewis said. “It’s a scary situation when you have to worry about will you see them again?”
In fact, police shootings worry her more than the reputation of her Meadowview neighborhood: very few grocery stores, parks and vacant lots. Still, she says it’s not all bad, and that there are huge misconceptions about South Sacramento, like, “it’s ghetto, this area is crime ridden,” she said.
“But because of what it was like, everybody automatically assumes that’s what it’s like and that’s far from the case,” Lewis said.
This is not to say that South Sacramento and other communities of color don’t need help. For instance, a big focus of the Clark demonstrations are about lack of investment in these neighborhoods.
Now, Sacramentans have a unique opportunity to drop a lot of money into places like Meadowview. It’s called Measure U: a local tax that brings tens of millions of dollars a year into Sacramento’s coffers, and that will likely be up for renewal on the November ballot.
Measure U was created to restore services cut during the recession. Since it began in 2013, police and fire have received most of the money, around $140 million, around $48 million went to parks and $5 million to libraries. Last year, more Measure U dollars were spent on police body cameras than libraries.
Les Simmons, a pastor who oversees a church near Clark’s neighborhood and helped craft Measure U, says South Sacramento needs more of the money if the city expects voters to re-up the tax in the fall.
“Our community has to feel the benefit of Measure U, not only police and fire feel the benefits of it,” Simmons said. “Making sure those that are closest to the pain, closest to the trauma, have what they need in order to treat that pain.”
This may be a pivotal moment to bring necessary money into low-income communities, Simmons says, for things like low-interest loans for black-owned businesses.
Simmons helped craft the half-cent sales tax that collects around $45 million yearly. He’s also part of a group called the Build Black coalition, which came together days after Clark was killed. This time, Simmons says Measure U needs to include more dollars for neighborhoods like Meadowview — beyond policing.
“There are areas where our community could of benefitted better, both in the violence and prevention, intervention world with programs that are really geared for youth,” Simmons said.
Cassandra Jennings is president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, a local workforce-development nonprofit. She says it’s not that they want fewer funds for police, it’s that they want intentional community-driven policing.
“We need to bring more resources in, and it may need to be more resources than other communities, because that's what you may need to get to equity,” Jennings said. “We need to be intentional beyond where we are already so that they have those same opportunities.”
Mayor Darrell Steinberg declined to give specifics about the future of Measure U: whether the city would ask voters for more money, if those funds would go to more than just police, fire, parks and libraries. Conversations are happening right now around how to draft the ballot-measure language.
Police make me more nervous than somebody else. They’re there not to protect us, but to just keep us in line.
“Stay tuned. Measure U is certainly in play, though I’m not ready to make any formal announcement yet, but soon I will,” Steinberg said. “Hopefully in the next couple of weeks.”
While law enforcement is getting a majority of the funding, people like Elijah Calloway say over-policing is a problem. “Anytime a police pull up on you, you know, that could be your last moment. It’s a cold feeling man,” he said.
The 21-year-old was shot twice two years ago — not by police — and says he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He earns just more than minimum wage at his job and says it’s difficult to resist joining a gang.
“When you see your boys in all types of foreign cars and with jewelry it's hard to, like, keep that down,” Calloway said. “Like, damn, I want that, too. But, you know, I want something more.”
Calloway wants to eventually open a business in Meadowview. The Measure U money could help with that, according to Simmons. But in the meantime he says police shouldn’t be scared of the people they’re supposed to serve.
“Police make me more nervous than somebody else,” Calloway said. “They’re there not to protect us, but to just keep us in line. It’s not really we’re here for your safety. No, you’re here because somebody sent you here.”
Jenalis Young recently bought a condo in Meadowview. The 32-year-old moved from San Jose three years ago on purpose.
“I wanted to come and bring that opportunity, bring that image to the Meadowview area,” Young said. “Because I see there’s a need for opportunity and there’s a need for investment here.”
Young says that, for black men to stop viewing police as a threat, law enforcement will need to shed the perception that they’re a militarized outfit.
Last year, police knocked on Young’s door. They were looking for a burglar. “The guy looked like a soldier,” Young recalled. “He had this big machine gun across his chest and I’m like just like ‘Wow, do I live in war zone?’ Is this what I’m supposed to think? Doesn’t even make me want to call them if I have an issue.”
He wants the community to police itself. But there are large questions over how to do that. For now, Young hopes that by living in Meadowview, he’s changing what people think about where he calls home.
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