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.