Why are Black people dying from guns at such a disproportionate rate in Sacramento?

Published on
March 7, 2024

Keith “KJ” Frierson, a 10-year-old Black child, was riding his bike with some friends in Sacramento County on Dec. 30, 2023. When he won a race, another 10-year-old got mad, went to his father’s car, retried his dad’s gun, and shot and killed KJ.

According to the Sacramento sheriff’s office, the child — whose name has not been released — had gone to his father’s vehicle to get him cigarettes, then took a firearm from inside the vehicle and bragged that his father had a gun. He then allegedly shot KJ and ran into a nearby apartment.

Detectives located a firearm in a nearby trash can where Arkete Davis, the boy’s father, allegedly disposed of it. Detectives confirmed that Davis was legally prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm. The recovered firearm was reported stolen in 2017.

Brittani Frierson, Keith’s mother, said her son was outside riding his bike and playing with friends and angered the other child by winning a race. She said that the child, unknowingly to the other kids and Keith, got a gun from his father’s car, waved it at the group of kids and purposely pointed the gun at Keith, ultimately shooting and killing him.

Davis, 53, is facing charges of child endangerment and several counts related to having a firearm. However, there are no murder charges filed and the boy who shot KJ is at home with his mother.

Although Sacramento Sheriff Jim Cooper called the incident an anomaly, it still highlights the serious issue of people having guns who shouldn’t, and worse yet, children or teenagers having access to guns.

Gun violence claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 people in 2021 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among males, Black or African American men had the highest rate of firearm-related homicides, with 52.9 deaths per 100,000 that same year.

Why are Black men dying at such a disproportionate rate?

Those deaths include gun murders and gun suicides, along with three less common types of gun-related deaths tracked by the CDC: accidental deaths, those that involved law enforcement, and those whose circumstances could not be determined.

Throughout the nation, guns are killing Black people, whether it’s teenagers hijacking cars at gunpoint in the Baltimore-Washington area, random gunfire in Seattle, or outside of nightclubs in downtown Sacramento. Across the nation, the number of Black Americans dying from gun violence, or committing gun murders, far outstrips their numbers in the general population. While records show that more Black Americans die at the hands of police gunfire than those of other races, it’s also known that Black-on-Black gun violence is among the leading causes of death.

In Sacramento, from October 2022 through October 2023, there were 74 homicides related to gunshot wounds, according to county coroner records. Thirty-four of the 74 or 46% of those victims were Black.

Five of these victims were 18 years old or younger, and that does not include KJ.

With support from the Center for Health Journalism’s 2024 California Health Equity Impact Fund, the Observer will take a deep dive into Black gun deaths in Sacramento and other major cities in California, studying individual coroner’s reports, causes and circumstances of deaths, police reports, arrest records and criminal charges.

As KJ’s death highlighted, the gun used to kill him was stolen. How many guns are reported stolen each year in Sacramento and how many of them are used to kill someone? Can law enforcement or new laws do more to prevent senseless killings of Black Americans?

The Observer will review coroner’s reports, talk to the victims’ families and try to understand the different circumstances that lead to gun violence.

Our reporting will reveal how well police investigated Black gun homicides, if arrests were made and whether the district attorney secured convictions.

Did the victims know the killers? Did the shooting happen as a result of domestic violence, or during the commission of another crime? Did the alleged shooters have previous criminal records, domestic violence convictions, or restraining orders against them? All of these are questions the Observer aims to answer.

Through the cooperation of local law enforcement and the district attorney, the Observer will hopefully discover how the killers got their hands on the guns and how we can prevent them from acquiring firearms.

Ideally, our reporting will lead to a change in laws and policies that will prevent further deaths from gun violence.