High rates of crime, shootings and homicides have plagued parts of Bakersfield for years, but the pandemic has had an effect similar to dousing a fire with gasoline.
The sharp rise in recent violence has galvanized community members who say it must end as they search for ways to pull their neighborhoods out of an intractable spiral.
“It’s been enough,” said Xenia King, who grew up in southeast Bakersfield and started a group called Mothers Against Gang Violence last year.
Bakersfield Police reported a record number of homicides in 2020 — 45 dead in 43 separate incidents — and seven in 10 happened in neighborhoods east of Highway 99, according to a detailed list the agency provided. So far in 2021, eight of the nine homicides the department is investigating — all of them shootings — also happened in that area.
Much of the violence is related to entrenched gang activity, a scourge in some neighborhoods east of Union Avenue. Gang activity often perpetuates subsequent incidents of violence in retaliation, according to Sgt. Robert Pair, a spokesman for the Bakersfield Police Department.
But several recent incidents in which bystanders became victims have the community even more on edge, and fearing for the safety of families and children.