Robert Placencia, 17, and Shanneel Singh, 18, are two recent murder victims in a low-income neighborhood in south Sacramento. Both youth lived and died within a night and two blocks of each other.
Statistically, Placencia and Singh were the 43rd and 44th killings this year in Sacramento. The city’s homicide total this year has spiked almost 40 percent from 2005.
But numbers alone only begin to tell this tale. The violence is devastating families.
Children are left parentless. Parents are left childless.
Against that backdrop, authorities are quick to shift blame to gangs for the recent rash of violence. What’s the favored intervention as the body count rises?
The answer is to put more police on the streets. First they apprehend the suspects.
Next up is prosecution, followed by incarceration. Other forms of prevention disappear like drops of water on hot sand.
In this way, government on the local, state and federal levels locks up more of the nation’s citizens than any other worldwide. This approach to crime and punishment by definition sidesteps strategies of prevention based on input from the people most affected by violent crime.
Government sidestepping community input this way is a fool’s errand. But such foolishness is a part and parcel of the prevailing view that government works best when it serves the interests of the upper class.
There seems to be no shortage of public funds for these fortunate few. By way of comparison, Sacramento’s low-income communities plagued by violence face a shortage of tax dollars to end the loss of life from violence.
“Neither the city nor the county has sufficient resources to do all that needs to be done,” according to an unsigned editorial in The Sacramento Bee of August 21. “That means the business community, churches and private charities must step up as well.”
President Herbert Hoover made a similar case for the limitations of government to address social ills during the depths of the U.S. Great Depression when 25 percent of the adult work force was out of work. Later, massive citizen mobilization spurred the federal government to respond to change its approach to meeting human needs.
There is a word for that process: democracy. How weak it has become in 2006 comes into clearer view when we turn to two Nov. 7 ballot measures for a Sacramento County sales-tax increase.
Welcome to the Maloof tax, a public subsidy to build a new basketball arena, and an associated advisory referendum before voters. The Maloof family owns Sacramento’s Arco Arena, where the NBA Kings and WNBA Monarchs play.
Crucially, consultants, lawyers and politicians hatched the Maloof tax plan behind closed doors. The public had no seat at this table.
Without a trace of irony, Maloof tax backers claim a new arena will boost civic pride. It will also show the world that Sacramento is a world-class city.
These are absurd assumptions. Tax dollars funneled from the majority up to the wealthy are nothing but welfare payments.
The Maloof tax is a window of opportunity for those who have oodles of private property to become “have mores” with public subsidies. Think of this taxation as a version of President George W. Bush’s “ownership society” in which ordinary people foot the bill for the continued gain of a well-off minority.
The Maloofs, of course, have the capital to build the new arena, but they want Sacramento County taxpayers to help them bear that cost. Since capitalism is by its very nature an unstable system due to the built-in unpredictability of market forces, the Maloofs seek protection for their investment.
City and county politicians in Sacramento are all too pleased to oblige the Maloofs. Thus the taxpaying public will vote on funding a new NBA/WNBA arena, whose big profits would flow to the Maloofs.
In the weeks to come, the campaign for the Maloof tax will pick up steam. Expect a tsunami of radio and TV ads arguing that the building of a new arena will be the best thing ever for regular citizens.
Meanwhile, Sacramento politicians are proving their worth according to the highest standards of early 21st-century America”increasing the profitability of the rich. Low-income families at-risk of lethal violence must wake up to reality that elected politicians who claim to represent are simply strapped for cash.
These families living in a state of siege should turn to other institutions than government for relief. Remember, government has limited resources except when it comes to those who own professional basketball arenas and teams.
SETH SANDRONSKY is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org