San Bernardino — home to the first McDonald's — was once a robust middle-class city but it was hit hard by the housing bust and recession. After that, unemployment in the San Bernardino-Riverside metropolitan area soared as high as 15 percent and foreclosures peaked at 8.8 percent in 2009, four times the national average.
The 2010 Census ranked San Bernardino the second-poorest city among the nation’s 100 largest — second to Detroit. About 52 percent of the county’s population is Hispanic.
Gangs have long been active in San Bernardino County, which had the third-most gang members in the country, according to an FBI report from 2011. The city of San Bernardino leads the county in the number of people living on the streets, in shelters and transitional housing, according to the latest homeless count taken in January 2015.
The city’s downtown core is struggling. Pawn shops line the street leading to City Hall. The city's Convention and Visitors Bureau, which played up its connection to the fabled Route 66, ran out of money and closed in 2013. Adjoining hotels, including a Radisson, are closed.
On Wednesday, police cars blocked several intersections. Police helicopters whirred overhead throughout the afternoon. Freeway access to the area near the shootings was closed part of the afternoon. Government offices throughout the area, including courts, closed.
Bonnie Mills, a 28-year-resident of San Bernardino, lives near the city's downtown and is a former area director for Neighborhood Watch. She said the city is drug- and gang-infested. She has dubbed the area near her home and the community center “Zombieland,” referring to the homeless people and drug addicts who wander through the park near downtown.
Before law enforcement identified Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik as the suspects who died in a shootout with police, Mills, 64, wove the nation's current Islamophobia into the local shootings, saying, "I think it’s ISIS. ... They’re indoctrinating gang members … It angers me. We’ve been way too complacent. We’re not hard enough, not tough enough.” Mills used another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has not been connected to the event.
“We need the community to come together,” said Ramiro Cortes, a district manager for Target. Workers from nearby Target Mobile stores brought water and juice to the Rudy C. Hernandez Community Center, where people waited to be reunited with loved ones.