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In Wake of Shooting, Children's Play Gone From Eighth Lane

Life has changed in neighborhood where residents fear for their safety.

For years, Angelica Duran, Alejandra Rado and Maria Benavides have met nightly for coffee on Eighth Lane around 9 or 10, when they get off work.

“We talk about our children, our problems; we laugh; we gossip,” said Rado, 40, who has lived in South San Francisco for 18 years and on Eighth Lane for seven.

“Ooh!” squealed Duran, 48, pulling her scarf in front of her face when asked what they talk about.  “It’s a secret.”

These nightly meetings go back 20 years, but their future is now uncertain.  Since the on Eighth Lane that killed three young men and left three injured, the women have met only rarely.  Benavides, who used to live on Eighth Lane but now lives on Hemlock Avenue, said she’s frightened to come out.

“I get scared when a car passes, if it’s driving fast,” Benavides said.

Eighth Lane is more of an alleyway than a street, and many of families who live there are related.  Everyone knows everyone, and residents say that before Dec. 22, it was common to see 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds running around outside, playing cops and robbers, soccer and hide-and-go seek until 11pm or midnight.

“It used to be like everyone has their doors open; they were running in and out,” said Sara Alvarez, 31, who lives on Eighth Lane with her husband and five children. “Everyone looks out for everybody on Eighth Lane. If I see [someone else’s] kid, I’m going to say, ‘What are you doing?’”

But since the shooting, it’s as if the lane has been emptied of children.

“It was never this quiet,” said Ralph Tavake, who lives next door to Alvarez.

Alvarez said that upwards of 30 kids lived on Eighth Lane before the shooting, though four families have moved away since.  Where once kids played and ran to the corner store for candy five or six times a day, they now stay inside. When they do go out, their mothers don’t take their eyes off them.

“I’m concerned about someone from outside coming and shooting our kids,” said Jose Gomez, 50, Alvarez’s father. 

 “They’re imprisoned in their homes,” said Alvarez, who now calls her 15-year-old son constantly when he’s out with his friends.

“It’s the fear that they’ll go out and not come back,” said Maria Lopez, whose son, Jose Manuel Lopez, 15, was shot and killed just blocks away on Hickory Avenue in May. Lopez has a 20-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, and she said that even after the trauma of her middle child’s violent death, the shooting in December left her even more scared. She doesn’t let her daughter go out by herself.

Jose Manuel Lopez’s killing is unsolved, as are those of the three men who died on Dec. 22: Gonzalo Avalos, 19, Omar Cortez, 18, and Hector Flores, 20. The San Mateo County Gang Task Force is assisting in the investigation, and the South San Francisco Police Department has focused on quashing gang activity since the December shooting.

But many residents of Eighth Lane bristle at what they see as a reflexive designation of “gang activity” and say it gives police an excuse to harass their children. Police presence has increased since the shooting, and Alvarez said that she is protective of her children both out of fear of violence and because she wants them to avoid police contact.

The South San Francisco city council in reserve funds to hire more police officers and implement a targeted policing strategy that includes a zero-tolerance police toward identified gang members.

“Anytime they’re acting out, they will be prosecuted,” said Chief of Police Michael Massoni about the new policy.  “No questions asked.”

Alvarez worries her son will be labeled a gang member by association because she had family and friends who were in gangs when she was growing up. More than anything, she wishes the neighborhood had a recreation center where kids could hang out without inviting police scrutiny.

For their part, Duran, Rado and Benavides attempted to revive their ritual by meeting for coffee on Eighth Lane on Sunday afternoon.  When the Super Bowl ended, someone set of fireworks, and the noise scared a young kid, who screamed and ran away.

It sounded like gunshots.

“It makes us sad because the kids don’t play the same way,” Duran said.

Alicia Alcantara February 08, 2011 at 03:06 PM
UNITY! Is it really...Or just an attempt to quiet the public. We have yet to see some of the questions that these parents have asked to be answered. Instead it seems to be a big "POWER PLAY and FALSE PROMISES." It is nice to see officals that were voted in by some of these families; but they need to do more then hire more officers to arrest more of their children. Do you really believe these people are ignorant enough to call the Police on their own children? OMG! Let's offer these kids intervention (not a straight trip to jail) Do not pass go sign.....We have more and more latino youth falling and you want us to stand there and turn our own in. ( TRULY Unbelievable). I don't hear anyone talking about how we can teach these kids to be leaders (instead of followers). How can we lift them out of this way of life.
Alicia Alcantara February 08, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Not taint or incarcerate them. Give them a record so they can never get a decent job. We are blinded by words. No one cares about these kids or mourns their death as their own family. Speak up and let your voice be heard. Attend every City Council meeting until you get the answers you want. Why is everyone so opposed to "An over-site committe" to review the handling of some of these cases against these children. How many of these children actually know their rights? Why are we allowing authorities to take pictures of our children if they have not committed a crime? There are so many unanswered questions "yet credit is being taken for unity. Unity is when we come up with solutions for both sides. Unity is when you put someone in charge that will take a role in helping these children rise above the obstacles they face each day.
SARA ALVAREZ February 08, 2011 at 05:44 PM
OUR LATINO COMMUNITY HAS UNITED AND HAS BEEN ATTENDING CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS, COMMUNITY MEETINGS, AND ARE MORE INVOLVED IN WHAT IS OCCURRING IN OUR COMMUNITY, AND AWARE OF UPCOMING PLANS BY THE CITY. THESE UNFORTUNATE EVENTS HAVE AND WILL KEEP OUR LATINO COMMUNITY UNITED!!!!! OUR VOICE THAT FOR MANY YEARS HAS KEPT QUIET, AND RELUCTANT TO QUESTION AUTHORITY, HAS BEGUN TO SPEAK UP, WE CAN ONLY GO FORWARD FROM HERE ON!!!!
Chauntel O. February 08, 2011 at 06:59 PM
I would like to add that it is not just the Latino community that has come together. What I have experienced is that all of Old Town has embraced each other. We have a wonderful community that I was raised in and hope to raise my children here as well. I see a promising future for this part of town. We are taking great strides working together and building a better community for our youth.
Alana Gomez February 08, 2011 at 08:09 PM
the rest of So. San Francisco support children! We passed a school bond last year allowing for improvements of our crumbling schools infrastructure. Let there be no mistake, the community is doing their part of providing youth with what it takes to avoid jail : Education. Our leaders have to meet us half way and they are, thankfully, but it is our city and they will do our bidding, but we must attend council meetins regularly and we must be solid in our commitment to work with them. Lets not be victims of crime, lets work to work on peaceful solutions to reclaim our neighborhoods.
Alicia Alcantara February 08, 2011 at 08:53 PM
The fact is that more parents need to step forward and look at how their kids are being portrayed. Do you think it is okay for your child to be stopped and pictures taken of your child be placed in a "gang task force book"; if your child has not committed a crime. Should your child be stopped and questioned if he is walking down the street with his friends because he is wearing "black". Where do we as parents draw the line? My point is these parents need to force City council to invest in the "FUTURE" of these children. (NOT MERELY PUT THEM IN PRISON) and close opportunites to them). We are so quick to say "ZERO TOLERENCE" and arrests will be made. Okay, instead of that why not promote positive behavior, be mentors, role models (not the enemy that just locks them away and doesn't care about their futures). Every parent should take an active role in the upbringing of their child.
Alicia Alcantara February 08, 2011 at 08:55 PM
These messages all need to be translated in spanish for parents that don't understand this.
Leona February 08, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Alicia is right. Dont let your child be stopped and let the police take pitctures of them and put them in the gang file. They will end up in prison and it will be hard for the rest of thier lives. My husband still goes through this and he has not been in any trouble for 15 years. The police need to be policed and stop violating out civil rights. They need to be reprimanded when they break the law. They need to stop thinking everything will blow over. 5 people were murdered we will not forget and we will not let the police forget.

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