A history of violence

Like many others on the Sacramento media scene, my e-mail inbox first became bombarded by Rhonda Erwin in the spring of 2005. Her many messages—which arrived as if sent by “Harriet Tubman”—contained local accounts of incidents of youth violence. Each of them lamented how little was being done about it all.

The messages were signed by Erwin, but her reference to Tubman (the infamous, turn-of-the-century African-American abolitionist who saved hundreds of enslaved friends using the Underground Railroad) was not lost on anyone.

Mostly, the e-mails were genuine distress calls from a mother who was sick of all the young people getting caught up in gang violence, especially in predominantly black parts of Sacramento. “Youth violence is like a cancer,” she wrote once. “Its polyps will continue to spread if we do not address the issue.”

I admired this Sacramento mom’s effort to hit community members over the head with the real scope of the violence and forwarded the e-mails on to news staff with notes like “why aren’t we writing more about this?” But it wasn’t enough. We did pay some attention—wrote a handful of stories and an editorial. And we printed a few guest commentaries by Erwin. But, really, none of it was near enough.

Recently, R.V. Scheide sought out Erwin and discovered the story behind her crusade. As it turns out, Erwin’s own son, Douglas, had gotten caught up in the chain of youth crime and violence. The fact brings her citizen’s campaign a new and previously unexplored dimension. Find Scheide’s compelling story here.

“There should be no them and us,” wrote Erwin in an e-mail she sent after attending a meeting on youth violence in the neighboring community of Elk Grove. “The death of a child should have no boundaries. Separating ourselves, claiming a territory, makes us no different than gang members dividing themselves and claiming their territories. We must address this issue together.”

She’s right, we must. But, in the meantime, the violence continues, the parade of funerals for young people in our community is ongoing.