What’s your gun number?

In Sacramento, violence is not as uncommon as you'd think

Hugh Biggar is a Sacramento writer and contributor to SN&R.

“Isn’t it weird somebody died right there?” my neighbor said when I met her on my way back from getting a coffee at the Naked Lounge. Standing on the front steps of our house, she pointed to a memorial about 15 feet away on the corner of 18th and P streets for a young man beaten to death just after midnight on St. Patrick’s Day.

Weird, for sure, and tragic and one more unsettling item in a series of violent incidents I had started to pay more attention to after reading a recent cover story called “What’s your number?” in The Washington Post Magazine.

In the article, The Washington Post asked various Washingtonians how many people they knew who had been shot. The responses ranged from one to more than 250.

I felt fortunate I did not know anyone who had been shot, but the article also made me reflect on how violence, particularly gun violence, is a common fact of Sacramento and American life.

In my own experience, I sometimes hear gunfire from my apartment near Fremont Park. Mostly, this gunfire is in the distance, but once, the shooting was close to home at a parking garage on the corner of R and 15th streets in 2011.

I learned to recognize the distinct pops of gun when I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. If I walked about 15 minutes in one direction, I arrived at the Capitol, and if I walked 15 minutes in the other direction, I was in the Trinidad neighborhood—the source of the gunfire and also a community that drew national attention in 2008 after D.C.’s police chief barricaded it with checkpoints.

More recently, in May 2012, I heard gunshots while drinking coffee on a sunny Friday morning at my mother’s house in the Oakland hills near Berkeley. I learned later the house next door had been robbed, and the burglars had fired at a building contractor who tried to stop them (no one was hit). In 2012, 131 others were not so lucky in Oakland and were murdered, according to the Oakland Police Department. (My hometown of Washington, meantime, had 92 murders in 2012, the first time in years the number was less than 100.)

In Sacramento, gunfire is not uncommon either. Just this week, a bystander was shot in the leg in the Land Park neighborhood. This brings to mind other Sacramento shootings, such as the fight on New Year’s Eve in Old Sacramento, the Second Saturday murder in 2010, the killing of a young mother during a gun battle on Stockton Boulevard in 2010. The list goes on. For 2012, the Sacramento Police Department tallied 36 homicides and 2,150 aggravated assaults.

As the assaults indicate, the violence is not limited to just shootings. One day, I arrived at my office across from the Downtown Plaza and saw the police had cordoned off part of K Street because of a knifing that occurred earlier that morning. Last April, a co-worker and I walked over to Downtown Plaza during a lunch break only to learn there had been a knife fight in the food court earlier in that day.

I am not sure what to make of all of this, other to than to keep a watchful eye out.

As for the murder on my block, I try to remind myself that such random acts can happen anywhere.

Even so, that consolation can ring hollow.

Like others, I stopped by the memorial at 18th and P streets. There were bouquets of flowers piled high, along with pictures of the young man. Standing there among the burning candles, looking at the photos, I kept trying to make sense of the violence.