SAN FERNANDO — Trying to revive a Latino gang truce that is coming apart following a rash of violence in the San Fernando Valley, activists met with dozens of parents Tuesday night and pleaded for their help in keeping the peace.
"We can only do so much," truce organizer Steve Martinez told the crowd of parents, children and activists in the auditorium of San Fernando Middle School. "We need you parents to help. That's the only way we can stop this killing."
Tuesday's meeting was the first of four scheduled across the Valley this month by Valley Unity Peace Treaty. The second is tonight at 7 at Victory Outreach Church at 13422 Saticoy St. in North Hollywood.
The meetings were organized as police and activists acknowledged that the cherished gang truce established on Halloween of 1993 has frayed.
In its first year, the truce reduced Valley gang slayings to 29 from 44 the previous year, according to Los Angeles police. But the number of gang killings this year has already surpassed last year's total, in a rash of summertime shootings that have led police to say the truce is on the ropes.
Authorities attribute the rise in gang homicide to a crackdown on the Mexican Mafia prison syndicate, which had called the truce, and to exhaustion among the small band of activists who organized their own Valley peace effort.
"It takes more than just a handful of people," said Alex Martinez, a counselor with the peace effort. "I would ask that every one of you parents tell your neighbors what's going on."
Speakers at the meeting stressed that the truce is still in effect for several gangs. Representatives of rival gangs from San Fernando and Pacoima shook hands in front of the audience to emphasize that they still abide by it.
Hector (Boxer) Rivera of Sylmar, a 27-year-old member of a Pacoima gang, said the truce has saved countless lives in his neighborhood. "Before it used to be at least one time a week somebody got shot," he said. "Now you don't even hear about it."
William (Blinky) Rodriguez, one of the two lay ministers who originated the truce, said the truce's organizers had always sought to involve parents but haven't had time until now.
"We always felt we needed to get the parents involved, being that we've been burning the midnight oil," Rodriguez said. "When you're running a marathon it's always hard to get other people involved."
In meetings with gang members, Rodriguez said, counselors remind the youths that "when they're out having a supposedly great time, there are a lot of parents out there agonizing" about them. At the meetings, "you would see [gang members] really lean forward, drinking all that in."
Rodriguez said parents should remind their children to keep the peace, a message that made sense to Isabel Martinez, 43, of Pacoima.
Although she said her eight children do not belong to gangs, Martinez said it was important to encourage all parents to talk to their kids about gangs. The meeting, she said, "will open a lot of eyes on the parents' side and make them realize there's trouble out there . . ." Parents, she said, are the first line of defense.