AUDIO INTERVIEW & ARTICLE: Fate of San Bernardino a Cautionary Tale for All of America


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During a recent San Bernardino, California, city council meeting, the city attorney told residents to “lock their doors and load their guns,” because the city is in the throes of a murder rampage that shows no signs of abating.

With 46 homicides so far this year, “a 50% increase in murders in the city over last year,” James F. Penman feels that “the time has come” for the residents to understand that cuts to the police have compromised their safety. Jim discusses the factors that have brought a once proud town to its knees, in this eye-opening interview (19:19).

San Bernardino, California: A Cautionary Tale for Other U.S. Cities

“I know that we’re not the only one that’s had to contemplate bankruptcy . . . but we keep hearing that many other cities are looking into that possibility.”

By Dave Gahary

As the United States continues its rapid and inexorable economic, social, political and moral decline, San Bernardino, California stands out as a city that many once-thriving and prosperous towns across the country are sure to emulate. San Bernardino, located about 55 miles east of Los Angeles, is the county seat of San Bernardino County, “the largest county geographically in the continental U.S.,” and home of the world’s first McDonald’s, became the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy a few months back, and is in the throes of a murder rampage that shows no signs of abating. With 46 homicides so far this year, “a 50% increase in murders in the city over last year,” city officials are sounding the alarm.

During a recent city council meeting the city attorney told residents to “lock their doors and load their guns,” which elicited the usual response from the corporate-controlled mainstream media, who is more concerned with serving the agenda of their editorial masters than providing their audience with helpful information that might actually save their lives. Naturally, the captured press failed to highlight the attorney’s full comments, which were tempered with warnings of proper firearms handling.

AMERICAN FREE PRESS conducted an exclusive interview with James F. Penman, the city attorney and city prosecutor for San Bernardino responsible for that sound advice. Mr. Penman, who prefers to be called Jim, is a married father and U.S. Army veteran, who has held that elected position for 25 years, and has lived in the city all his life. He agreed to discuss the troubles of San Bernardino, the poorest city population-wise in California, and the second poorest in the U.S. after Detroit, Michigan.

Jim explained some of the factors behind the collapse of the city, which began in the mid-1990s, when its three main employers flew the coop. Norton Air Force Base closed, Santa Fe [Railway] repair yards transferred and Kaiser Steel closed down, “and we began to see an exit from the city of middle-class families looking for work elsewhere.”

Additionally, Calif. Legislative Bill 8109 requires “the state to drastically reduce the prison population,” Jim explained, “and they’re releasing people who are supposedly non-violent offenders, although that may mean that a home invasion robbery was plea bargained down to a burglary.”

“We have a large number of people in our community who have criminal records,” he continued, “a number of parolees, and we have a lot of people here who should still be in prison.”

“For years we were the dumping ground for parolees from Los Angeles County,” he explained. “In 2000, the Director of the State Department of Corrections visited us and admitted that they had been ignoring their own rules and releasing prisoners who belong in Los Angeles County to San Bernardino. So we have an artificially-inflated criminal population here. And the people who have been here long enough, who have been transferred here, and their children are here, that when they do commit a crime, they are now rightfully returned to the City of San Bernardino.”

On top of that, “because of our financial situation, we’ve had to reduce the size of our police department…down about 80 officers” from a peak of about 350.


Demographics play prominently in San Bernardino’s collapse. In 1970, 66% of the city was White, but by 2010, that figure sat at 19%. “In 1976,” explained Jim, “San Bernardino was named an All-American City.” Besides the White population, the city’s current makeup is 60% Hispanic, 15% Black, 3% Asian, and a smattering of other races.

“We’ve had a lot of middle-class flight from the city,” he explained. “The demographics have changed considerably in San Bernardino. I hope it’s not a portent of things to come for other cities around the nation, I know that we’re not the only one that’s had to contemplate bankruptcy. We’re one of the few that have had to go into it, I hope we’re not followed by others, but we keep hearing that many other cities are looking into that possibility.”

“Because so much of our crime, so many of the people in our prisons continue to be African-American and Latino,” explained Jim, “I think it’s a warning of what can happen to a city that doesn’t address problems of poverty, educational issues, and opportunities for employment, especially amongst the non-majority population.”

The latest victim of the crime wave which precipitated Jim’s comment at the meeting was a White woman in her mid-70s, who lived in “a nice home just below the Arrowhead Country Club, one of the more affluent areas around town.” She was mercilessly murdered during a home invasion and the suspect or suspects are still at large.

“We have had a number of home invasion robberies,” explained Jim, “and I think that those who are able to do so should take the necessary steps to protect themselves, and I think it’s incumbent upon government to tell people when the time has come, and in my opinion the time has come. Many police officers have told me that, many law enforcement officials have told me that. But it’s obvious when you’ve had a 50% increase in murders in one year, that something is out-of-kilter.”

Of those killed, “most of the people who are victims of homicide in this city are involved in gang or drug activity, as in most cities,” explained Jim.

Jim explained what the city was like when he grew up there, a sad tale with many counterparts across the country.

“It was a wonderful place to grow up,” he began. “As kids we cruised E Street, which was the main drag. Kids don’t do that here anymore because we had some shootings along our cruise route a few years ago, well, quite a few years ago now.”

“It’s a complete reversal from the middle-class, blue-collar town that San Bernardino was for years. This was a favorite getaway location for Hollywood celebrities, Tennessee Ernie Ford had his start here on radio, Carol Lombard had a home [nearby], and in the days when people took more than one day to get from LA to Palm Springs, a lot of notable people from Hollywood would spend the night here, some even had homes here.”

Ironically, “Wyatt Earp grew up here,” said Jim, and “sadly, San Bernardino citizens today are living in an Old West atmosphere. In the Old West I think you were probably safe most of the time, but the law could be a long ways away, and you gotta be able to take care of yourself until the law got there.”

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Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.

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