A mass killing that left six people dead and 12 wounded outside bars just blocks from the California State Capitol Building last weekend was a gunfight involving at least five shooters from rival gangs, Sacramento police said on Wednesday.
Police said they identified at least five shooters, but there may have been more. Only two suspects — brothers wounded by gunfire — have been arrested in connection with the shooting and, so far, only face firearms charges.
“We’re still working through ... who the actual shooters are in the case,” Sacramento Police Sergeant Zach Eaton said.
Police had been silent on what led to the shooting that erupted early on Sunday as bars were letting out. Rapid-fire bursts of more than 100 gunshots echoed through the streets as terrified patrons ran for their lives and some were hit by bullets.
Police said at least two gangs were involved, but declined to provide more details or name the gangs or affiliation of any suspects.
Experts said that if gangs were to blame, it would mark an unusually bloody feud.
In 20 years of researching gangs in Los Angeles, Alex Alonso said he could not remember a gang-related shooting with such a high body count.
“It’s extremely rare that a gang shooting happened as the way this one is being characterized,” Alonso said. “It’s extremely rare to have that happen in a public place with so many victims.”
Gregory Chris Brown, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Fullerton, said gangs often target rivals in drive-by shootings with fewer victims, although bystanders are sometimes also struck.
The location of the Sacramento shooting — in a bustling area of watering holes near the entertainment district — was incidental to whatever fueled the fight.
“If rival gang members see each other, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the Capitol of the United States of America,” Brown said. “If you see a rival gang member and you’re going to attack them, it doesn’t matter where they are.”
The large number of casualties was the result of high-capacity weapons in a crowded area, he said.
Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth who leads gun intervention and prevention programs and offered his services to counsel families who lost loved ones in the shooting, criticized police for characterizing the crime as gang-related, which he said would lead some to “think black people.”
He said that people would see the photos of the black women and men who were shot, assume they were in a gang and wonder why gang members are downtown.
“That’s the narrative we don’t need at this particular time,” Accius said. “This idea that we’re going to put blame to one demographic of folks and blame them for the violence that ensued.”
Bill Sanders, a criminologist at California State University, Los Angeles, said he wanted to see more evidence the shooting was gang-related, a term police often use to drum up support.
He said gang shootings are more mundane and most occur in what are considered gang neighborhoods.
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