On the night of 3 September 2020, Sonya Mitchell got a call as she was leaving work. Her 23-year-old son, Daimon “Dada” Ferguson, had been shot in a drive-by outside his older sister’s home.
In the months before, Mitchell, 56, had been watching reports of shootings in her hometown of Vallejo, in the San Francisco Bay Area, with increasing concern. There was the shooting at a birthday party on 9 June that killed two women and injured a 10-year-old. Three separate shootings had rocked the city on 20 August, including a double homicide that left a 25-year-old man and his 24-year-old girlfriend dead in a car with their infant son.
Mitchell rushed to the house, expecting a crime scene, police cars and ambulances. Instead she found a group of bystanders, the car the shooters had crashed into the garage of a nearby house, and a man carrying her bleeding son. “What the fuck is going on? Where are the first responders?” Mitchell thought.
Mitchell drove her son to the ambulance entrance of Sutter Solano medical center, but wasn’t let in because he didn’t arrive in an ambulance. She headed to the front of the hospital next, banging on the locked sliding doors.
“He couldn’t even talk at this point, and when I saw the blood I started banging my purse on the door and tried to break the glass,” Mitchell recalled. She pleaded with hospital security officers to help her son, who was bleeding on the pavement. Eventually a security guard came out with a wheelchair to take Ferguson inside. An hour later, a doctor told Mitchell that her son had died. She passed out.
Sonya Mitchell wears shirt saying Justice for DaDa
Daimon Ferguson, Sonya Mitchell’s son, was one of 456 people violently killed across the greater San Francisco Bay Area last year. Photograph: Marissa Leshnov/Marissa Leshnov for The Guardian
Daimon Ferguson was one of 456 people violently killed across the greater San Francisco Bay Area last year, according to data reported to California’s department of justice.
Like other major cities in the US, the area witnessed a surge in gun violence during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Homicides across the 12 counties that make up the greater region rose 25% in 2020, compared with the previous year, a new Guardian analysis of census data and state homicide data shows. That’s 114 more homicides than the year before.
A detailed analysis shows that homicide rates across the region increased in nine out of 12 counties, but that the rise did not affect all cities and residents equally.
The surge was most pronounced in cities that have historically borne the majority of the region’s gun violence, with Vallejo, Oakland and Stockton seeing the biggest rises.
The increase hardly touched the Bay Area’s more affluent, suburban areas, where homicide rates barely increased.
The overwhelming majority of victims were Black and Latino, with Black residents dying in homicides more than any other racial group.
And the surge came after the region witnessed more than a decade of steady declines in gun homicide rates, a decrease that lasted right up until the onset of the pandemic.
Most of the homicides were committed with guns, used not in mass casualty events that make the nightly national news, but in daily shootings on the region’s blocks, streets and in its parks.
Mitchell says that her son was a lifelong mama’s boy who she loved spoiling. He had played football throughout his childhood and adolescence and despite the stereotypes that follow young Black men who are murdered in their communities, her son had love for everyone around him, she said.
It feels like we’re losing ground
“It feels like we’re losing ground,” she said about the rise in shootings in her community. After several more peaceful years, Vallejo families are once again carrying an outsized burden of gun violence in the region. “We’re losing lives daily from Covid and murders and everything else that’s going on.”
More than a data point
The Guardian analyzed three years of homicide data reported by police and sheriff’s departments to the state of California, numbers that do not include police killings or deaths the state classifies as “negligent homicides”.
The analysis shows that most impacted by the surge in homicides in 2020 were three cities that have historically been hit hard by gun violence.