You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

After three decades of asking the same questions, anti-gang marchers demanding answers

The temperature must have been in the high 90s as the afternoon sun beat down on the hot asphalt on South King Street in east Bakersfield.

The marchers, 40 to 50 in number, repeated a call-and-answer chant as they walked together toward East California Avenue.

"What do we want?"

"Peace!"

"When do we want it?"

"Now!"

The intensity seemed to rise as the chant — like a desperate prayer — was hurled into the air in hopes that someone would hear, that someone might respond.

"What do we want?"

"Peace!"

"When do we want it?"

"Now!"

It didn't sound like too much to ask — to be able to have a family picnic in the park without fear of shots ringing out. To send your teenage son to the store without worry that he might not come home.

"It's a fight for the community, a fight for the people in this community," said Xenia King, president of Mothers Against Gang Violence, a grassroots organization trying to bring a new kind of attention to an old problem.

King blames the gangs. But she also blames "poverty-stricken neighborhoods" where kids often fall victim to a cycle of low-paying jobs or no jobs at all.

Other, wealthier neighborhoods have access to capital investment, economic development, safe streets and a blight-free environment.

"Somebody dropped the ball," she said, "and forgot about how to pick it up."

People here say they want police protection, but they don't want to fall victim to it. Police action against gang members is important, but by itself, it won't fix the core problems.

"I grew up not far from here," said Michael Bowers, who went "from Cottonwood to college" to his current position on the Bakersfield Planning Commission. His experience should be the rule, not the exception.

"People need access to jobs," said Bowers, who attended Friday's event. "That's what's going to make things better."

"You get the political speeches. For three decades, we've been saying the same things."

Bowers looked out toward East California Avenue.

"Look at that," he said. "There hasn't been economic development here in three decades.

"People give great speeches," Bowers said. "Then everyone goes home."

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.