Vallejo on track for one of the most violent years in decades

Vallejo is on pace to shatter its previous homicide record.

There have been 21 killings inside city limits so far this year, with two more reported overnight Wednesday. And one of them hit a nerve, with cell phone video showing an anguished mom pleading for hospital personnel to save her wounded son.

Sonya Mitchell of Vallejo drove her son Damon Ferguson, 21, to Sutter Solano Hospital after he was wounded on Adele Drive in Vallejo.

"The ambulance never came, and I'm here trying to get someone to get my son out of the car," she told security guards.

But no one rushes to help, and Mitchell's distress rises.  

"My son is a gunshot victim, I'm still waiting for someone to get my son out of the car," she cries.

"He may be losing his life, I want you to see this," she says, pointing her phone at Ferguson, sprawled on the curb, unconscious.

Known as Dada to his family, he was Vallejo's 21st homicide of 2020.

On Thursday, the Vallejo Police Officers Association issued a strongly-worded statement about what it calls a "murder and crime spree" and a "life-threatening situation for Vallejo citizens."

The VPOA is pressing for full funding and staffing so that the department can bolster public safety.

In the incident in which Ferguson died, the union describes "cars with a barrage of bullet holes". 

Only a few hours earlier, across town on Maine Street, officers heard shots and discovered another young man, dead.

At this rate, 2020 could eclipse Vallejo's previous record of 30 murders, set in 1994. 

"We've had almost 200 shootings this year, and it's just horrible," said Sean West, a Vallejoan who launched a Facebook group to keep track of the many violent incidents.

"Some of it might be gangs or kids fighting back and forth but that doesn't seem to be the full picture, because people who aren't involved are being shot," said West.

On his page "Vallejo Crime and Safety", West monitors and posts about Vallejo crime because he worries people may not know what is happening around them. His group has almost 30,000 members.

"You really don't want to go out after dark and you don't want to go to certain areas," said West, of the current chaotic mood. "You really don't want to go out at all if people are being shot at randomly because it's not safe."    

Many of those posting on West's page clamor for more police patrols as a deterrent.

The Vallejo Police Department declined to comment, but the union notes, there are only 6 detectives in a department that should have three times that. And at any given time, there are 6 officers on patrol, when a population over 120,000, would suggest double.  

"But we also know we cannot police ourselves out of this issue," responded Vallejo City Council Member Hakeem Brown.

For months, Brown has been deluged with citizen's concerns about rising violence.

"What's propelling it in the short term, is retaliatory violence, but what's propelling it long term is lack of investment in our youth," said Brown.
He points to generational poverty: too many adults without stable jobs, housing, or hope. And too many children who don't see a different future for themselves.

"Instead of being a curse to grow up in Vallejo, it needs to be something positive, we need to push these kids and young people to success, instead of what's happening now," he said.

Brown recalls when he was growing up in Vallejo, kids picked up a sport, not a gun. 

"Today a kid in north Vallejo doesn't have a good chance to know a kid from south Vallejo because they didn't grow up playing sports together and they didn't attend any youth events because we don't have any," said Brown.

He points to neighboring Richmond, which has brought violent crime down by investing in outreach and youth programs.

"Early childhood education, mentoring, training, and housing," cited Brown, "because we need a pipeline to success instead of prison."

And Brown wants Vallejo to living-wage jobs in tech and manufacturing.

"Building a fast food restaurant is not economic development."

Both Brown and West found Sonya Mitchell's hospital trauma heartbreaking and outrageous.

"They still ain't got my son up, they still ain't got my son up," Mitchell exclaims on the video, as paramedics casually pull her son into a wheelchair.

"He's in a chair, how long did that take you?," Mitchell screams in frustration, to which a passing medic responds: "You could have called 911."

Mitchell erupts, shouting, "we called 911, they didn't come, they didn't come."

The callous comment from the paramedic prompted a call from Councilman Brown to the ambulance company.

"I was definitely happy to hear that person was put on unpaid leave, and I think that's a start," said Brown, "because we want people held accountable and that should never happen to any parent."

Added West, " this person was having the biggest nightmare of their life, their son dying in front of them, screaming for help and nobody's doing anything, what on earth could be scarier than that?"