Even by the grim standards of the place with the highest murder rate in California, the shooting spree that killed five this week after a domestic dispute has shaken the industrial community of Bakersfield, the New York Times reports. “We have a lot of homicides, up and down the Central Valley,” said Kern County sheriff Donny Youngblood. Calling the nation’s epidemic of mass shootings “our new norm,” he said, “Now it’s our turn.” Kern County authorities blame the increase in the murder rate on killings involving gangs and drugs. Part of the county is a border between two rival gang territories, said sheriff’s Lt. Mark King.
Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said she had seen instances of domestic violence increase in recent years, as well as gang murders. She puts much of the blame for her county’s murder outbreak on California’s moves to reduce its prison population. “I definitely believe the criminal justice reforms have released dangerous criminals who should be incarcerated,” she said. King agreed with that assessment and said that many in law enforcement did, too. Criminal justice activists dispute a connection. The region, about 115 miles north of Los Angeles, has missed out on the economic boom of California’s coastal areas. The county’s unemployment rate is over 8 percent, almost twice that of the state, and residents say gangs and drug use are rampant. The killings on Wednesday began in a desolate section of southeast Bakersfield. The sheriff’s department identified the gunman as Javier Casarez, 54. Last year, Kern County set a record with 101 murders, even as murders dropped across California.