About 300 San Fernando Valley residents braved withering heat Saturday to send a message to gang members: Don't mess with us.
Moms pushing strollers and solemn-faced men in hats and sunglasses were joined by skateboard-toting teenage boys and little girls in sundresses as they paraded down Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima to demand that Valley gangs end their violence.
There's evidence that gang members are listening, participants and organizers said.
After a May 9 gang shooting in Panorama City killed a 3-year-old boy and sparked community outrage, "the level of gang violence throughout the Valley calmed down considerably," said Gilbert Bautista, a Los Angeles County probation officer who attended the march and is in charge of an anti-gang unit. "Even gang members often have some kind of conscience."
Jaime Peralta of Communities in Schools, a nonprofit gang intervention group that sponsored the march with the help of area churches, agreed. Since the May 9 slaying, gangs have been talking to each other in an effort to reach a truce, he said.
"Right now, we have 15 gangs sitting at the table every Wednesday night at a local church. There's not a peace treaty yet, but it's gonna happen," Peralta said.
As sign-waving marchers streamed out of the parking lot of Mary Immaculate Church toward Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, dozens of passing motorists honked their horns and shouted words of support.
Marchers carried seven coffins representing lives recently lost to gang violence.
West Hills resident Rosemarie Marky said she traveled across the Valley to join the march because she worries that gang members interpret silence as indifference.
"It's like teaching a child," she said. "If you never say 'no,' how are they going to know? We need to tell these kids that what they do here in the Valley affects all of us."