When most of the world thinks of California they think of Disneyland, tan surfers, plastic surgery, earthquakes, stunning sparkling beaches, valley girl accents and medical marijuana. That said, what kind of place is San Bernardino, California. A small all-American town? A bustling metropolis? The California dream? Many local people would describe the city as a place that has suffered many disappointing blows over the years.
According to the 2015 Community Indicators Report issued by the County of San Bernardino, this county has the 12th largest population of any county in the U.S., boasting more residents than 18 of the united states including New Mexico, West Virginia and Idaho. Residents here have a higher than average likelihood of being born outside of the United States, and tend to be working class and humble–far from the inflated Hollywood attitudes. Louis Vuitton is an endangered species here. Work gloves, nurse uniforms, collared shirts, blue jeans and Nike shoes are the couture fashions of these parts. You could describe residents as modest, pick-up truck driving individuals that put family high on their priority list. No valley girl accents, the tans are natural and plastic surgery isn’t as much of a priority as it is in other parts of the state. People here are real. Graduating college is still a humongous accomplishment which calls for a celebration because it breaks generational trends. There is a mid-western feel to many parts of San Bernardino County. Slightly over half of the county is comprised of Latinos of any race, 31% are white residents, 8% black and 7% Asian.
If you like wide open spaces, 80% of San Bernardino County is vacant land. The city of San Bernardino is a few miles from Fontana, a city with similar demographics which boasts the ranking of being the 15th safest city in the U.S. It is also close to Riverside where Richard Nixon married his wife and where almost a dozen presidents have spent time time visiting historical places.
According to Forbes, San Bernardino’s business climate continues to drop, most recently to all time low. Many of residents have watched numerous businesses leave the city over the last 15 years. Forbes currently ranks, “….San Bernardino, California…as the worst city for jobs this year. The city has one of the highest unemployment rates for residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.” In addition, the cost of living is 17% higher than the national average.
During the 1990’s gang presence in San Bernardino began to increase devastating businesses and interfering with politics and ordinary family life. According to the article San Bernardino’s rising homicide rate troubles cops, residents, the city has experienced it’s share of trouble since at least the 1990’s when it became a murder capital of the US. In 2012, the police force filed for bankruptcy creating a void that further devastated the city. The article goes on to state that 90% of homicides in the city of San Bernardino were due to gang related activity or the drug trade.
As of 2015, prior to the devastating mass murder, San Bernardino was still considered a murder capital ranking #28 in the United States according to Neighborhood Scouts Murder Capitals of America, 2015 Countdown of top 30 cities with highest murder rates. This is why it is not surprising that when the devastating mass killing took place on December 2nd, many locals shared the thoughts of San Bernardino resident Aileen Zu. “At first when I heard of the shooting I thought it was gang related. The last thing that came to my mind was to think it is ISIL related. I mean out of all places, San Bernardino? A city that hardly anyone knows about? You would think of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco as better targets.”
This horrible crime further devastated a city that has suffered so much for over a decade. Now that you have the backdrop for the crime, here are the details that have been uncovered about the tragedy:
It occurred in San Bernardino at the Inland Regional Center in the Department of Public Health. According to the Inland Regional Center homepage, “For the past 44 years, Inland Regional Center’s qualified and supportive employees strive daily to serve more than 31,000 individuals with developmental disabilities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. As the largest of the regional centers in the State of California, Inland Regional Center is a nonprofit, private community-based agency…”
Employees were attending a holiday party when the violence ensued. The perpetrators have been identified as married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook, an American health inspector who worked in the Inland Regional Center, and Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani born, legal U.S. resident who publicly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook post.
The couple shot 14 people to death at the scene and injured 21 others. Among the injured is Anies Kondoker, a woman shot three times who attended the same mosque as the shooters proving that hatred is an indiscriminate non respecter of religion. Four hours after the massive murder took place, Farook and Malik were killed in a shootout with the police.
The people lost in the chaos of this tragedy included county employees, health inspectors and many developmentally disabled individuals including this writers Grandmother in-law, who is both blind and deaf.
The act has been deemed a premeditated, terrorist attack. It has been uncovered that Farook got $28,500 loan before San Bernardino shooting, had an argument with a co-worker who criticized Islam just weeks before the event, and that the couple practiced at shooting ranges before San Bernardino mass shooting.
San Bernardino has been trying to heal as many participate in interfaith vigils, blood drives, fundraisers for victims families and remember the ordinary people who died heroically protecting their coworkers in the conference room when the shooting occurred. All of this occurred in the midst of a nation which blew up Twitter with racist tirades, and presidential candidates participating in fear mongering and anti-constitution rhetoric in order to garner votes.
If you care to know San Bernardino, you should know that it doesn’t want your racism, your hate, your fear mongering, your Islamaphobia, or your personal agendas. This may not be the city idealized on the Hollywood movie screens, and it may have become world famous for all the wrong reasons, but it’s a place that has learned to take a punch, get back on its feet, climb into its pick up truck and get back to doing real work despite it all. While the rest of the world is interested in creating divisions, San Bernardino residents are more interested in unity, not rancor and hopes the rest of the country can finally join them in that goal of overcoming tragedy through unification.