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Cops, community come together to share approaches to combat gang violence

Safe streets 1

Pastor Josephate Jordan, of Christ First Ministries, addresses the difficulty in trying to measure efforts intended to reduce gang violence and participation in gangs by young Bakersfield residents at a meeting of the Bakersfield Safe Streets Partnership held Tuesday night in central Bakersfield. Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer is in the background.

Those who fight to reduce gang violence in Bakersfield may sometimes seem like Sisyphus, the figure from Greek mythology required to forever roll a boulder uphill.

But talk with them and they remain sure that the work they are doing is producing positive results, even if those results are not always measurable, readily apparent or to their satisfaction.

"We don't know how many kids we've steered away from gangs through this work," said Pastor Josephate Jordan of Christ First Ministries at a monthly meeting of the Bakersfield Safe Streets Partnership.

Indeed, trying to measure efforts intended to reduce gang violence and participation in gangs by young Bakersfield residents is never easy, and this meeting held at Southside Seventh-day Adventist Church on Third Street in central Bakersfield attested to that as the city tallies the violence that seemed to spike during part of the pandemic.

Bakersfield Police reported a large 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. The numbers began climbing in 2021 as well, but at Tuesday's meeting BPD Lt. Daniel McAfee said there's been something of a cooling down.

"Thank God there hasn't been a whole lot going on in the last 25 to 30 days," he said.

But much of the attention of the 20 or so attendees was on what some in the community said is a nightly gathering of hundreds of people, some with criminal gang connections, at the Central Cali Market on East California Avenue in east Bakersfield.

One concerned resident, who was afraid to have their name appear in this story, told the attendees the situation is a powder keg waiting to explode.

McAfee said situations like that may best be handled by members of the community who can speak directly to people at the site. A police presence may help keep the situation calm.

"The community needs to reconnect with the community," he said.

Mayor Karen Goh was there. Manual Carrizales of Stay Focused Ministries led the meeting. Socially distanced nearby was Wesley Davis, president of the Wendale Davis Foundation.

Lemayo Jones, from the Kern County Department of Child Support, expressed concerns that there are few organized activities for children, especially kids who are at risk of becoming affiliated with gangs.

We need "prevention," he said, "before kids become gang members."

After the meeting, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer decried laws that have eased punishment for drug use and sales.

"Gangs are establishing turf over drugs again," she said. "There's no accountability."

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