Oak Park town hall searches for answers to recent gun deaths

19-year-old Deston Garrett only the latest casualty

This is an extended version of a story from the June 16, 2016, issue.

Forty-five men and women bowed their heads inside the Oak Park Community Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as a pastor prayed for a different reality than the one they share.

It was June 8, less than two weeks after a series of shootings killed and injured seven people in Oak Park, south Sacramento and North Highlands over Memorial Day weekend. Many of the victims were young people of color. And while authorities have released few details, rumors swirled about the suspects and their motives, and future violence to come.

On June 11, Deston Garrett, 19, of Oak Park became the next casualty, succumbing to a gunshot wound to the upper torso he suffered at his residence a couple days prior. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the shooting as a potential homicide. And on Tuesday, the body of a 23-year-old man was found in a north Sacramento field, dead from an apparent gunshot wound.

Inside the mural-covered community center, attendees searched for answers during a town hall hosted by the mentoring group Voice of the Youth, the South Sacramento Christian Center and the city.

“Why and how have we gotten to this point?” asked Voice of the Youth founder Berry Accius.

Theories ranged from housing segregation to graphic video games and music to a lack of jobs and opportunities for young people.

“I know 50 kids right now who are looking for a job,” said a 36-year-old coach. “Kids been getting killed since I was growing up. … Enough was enough back then.”

Others downplayed the oft-cited involvement of gangs, saying most of these shootings were perpetrated by and against people who knew each other and had resolved themselves to bleak fates long ago.

“We’ve embraced the outcome already,” one man said, referring to both prison and death. “You see we’ve embraced that mentality.”

In the audience was Nicole Clavo, whose 17-year-old son J.J. was fatally shot in November, while driving to Grant High School with his friends to participate in a playoff football game. The suspect in the shooting is a 16-year-old accused gang member.

“My one question for him is, ‘What were you thinking at the time you thought it was a good idea to shoot into an occupied vehicle of young men? What was missing from your life?’” she told SN&R in the hall, as the attendees broke up into groups to brainstorm solutions. “'What did we do to fail you, to not protect you and not protect ourselves?”

Then, nodding toward the classroom door, she said, “That’s what we’re trying to answer.”