In march against violence, Bakersfield activists say gangs and poverty go hand in hand

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Led by Mothers Against Gang Violence, people marched along South King Street in Bakersfield to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, an area that’s a cornerstone of a neighborhood with its fair share of issues.

The group chanted for peace all the way to East California Avenue and King Street, rounding a park that had been the scene of a shooting just months earlier.

But for Xenia King, the founder of Mothers Against Gang Violence, it’s where she and many others from the group grew up, saying Southeast Bakersfield is one of many areas hit hard by poverty and violence, with young people becoming victims.

“When the kids are struggling, they get out there, and they get out there and find ways to find money,” said King, just before the march. “And that’s when drugs come in, that’s when prostitution comes in, and that’s when gang violence comes in.”  

According to the Bakersfield Police Department, there were over 60 gang-related shootings that left someone wounded, as well as 15 homicides in 2020. While Mothers Against Gang Violence takes a focus on local black neighborhoods, King says all over Kern County too many suffer from senseless violence, usually in the county’s poorest communities.

“We don’t have to hurt each other,” King said, “We don’t have to hurt each other we can love each other become united and get things in place for us – that way we can live in harmony, that way we can live in peace.”

They weren’t alone at the event, with the group joined by Garden Pathways, the African-American Network of Kern County, and Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce President Nick Hill, III, among others.

A flyer at the event had a message from King on the back, listing 9 ways to develop communities economically and socially, from better housing and jobs to voting for officials who have their best interests in mind.

Hill and King agree that for a long time, higher-ups “dropped the ball,” with projects meant to revitalize poor communities skipping areas like the one around MLK Park.

“They go around the poverty stricken areas, and they just put everyone in this little bubble, and they create more room in the jails,” said Hill. “It’s like from the high school pipeline to jail, and the opportunity? It’s way out there somewhere, but we want to bridge that gap, and bring the opportunity here where it belongs.”

King invites anyone interested in getting involved with Mothers Against Gang Violence to reach out to them through their website.

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