Two minutes before the rally commenced, Valerie Tulier-Laiwa told everyone to greet and hug each other. The hope was to create love and community — a theme that was repeated countless times during Mission Peace Collaborative’s peace rally Tuesday afternoon, launched in response to two recent shootings.
“We’re doing this because it’s really important for young people,” said Tulier-Laiwa, who grew up in the Mission and frequently witnessed fights in the neighborhood. “We can’t be doing violence when there’s little kids around, when there’s families around. Right now, we’re crossing a line.”
Some 50 people gathered at the 24th and Mission BART plaza on Tuesday to advocate for peace and healing and condemn recent neighborhood violence. A young man shot and wounded nine people at an outdoor party on Friday, June 9; three days later, two men exchanged more than a dozen shots in Precita Park.
“Today is about healing,” said Roberto Hernández, often called the Mayor of the Mission and a District 9 supervisor candidate.
The agenda Tuesday was light: A series of cultural and ceremonial events meant to uplift the neighborhood’s residents, interspersed with general comments about youth, violence prevention and peace. The participants were familiar, individuals who have rallied on the same corner over similar issues in earlier years.
A trio of men held up a banner that read “Unity.” Connie Rivera, an indigenous dancer and local business owner, led a team of danzantes in prayer and dance, cleansing attendees with sage and dancing on the plaza’s brick in bare feet. Ayiana Escobar, a youth born and raised in the Mission, sang Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi Vida” and danced salsa, earning an excited whoop from a Muni passenger.
“We should be helping each other, from over here to over there. We shouldn’t just be causing violence in these streets,” Escobar said during a short speech preceding her performance. The young lady chastised her own generation directly: “This is a community. This isn’t no street stuff no more.”
While the rally’s speakers kept explicit details surrounding the shootings to a minimum, they suggested that successful violence prevention requires increased neighborhood and youth resources and opportunities.
Many believe increased mental health resources would be a step in the right direction. “Communities of privilege always frame their issues with gun violence as a mental health issue. We also have mental health issues,” said Susana Rojas, executive director of Calle 24 Latino Cultural District.
Tulier-Laiwa, wearing red cat-eye glasses, had an optimistic reminder. “Young people: There’s a lot of people who love you and will support you.” To prove her point, she walked around the crowd, handing the microphone to different Mission community organizers who worked with youth.
“Horizons Unlimited,” one woman said enthusiastically, as Tulier-Laiwa approached. “And we’d love to see you there!” she told the assembled crowd.
Members from re-entry programs and community nonprofits similarly introduced themselves and their programs when Tulier-Laiwa came near.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen blamed poverty and inequality as the root of violence. Stricter gun laws would also decrease tragedies, she said.
Teaching kids and teenagers to respect the neighborhood was another recurring theme.
Longtime Mission residents and organizers recalled the ’80s to early 2000s, when public violence occurred more frequently but was mostly contained among the warring parties — out of respect for the neighborhood, they said.
Fights didn’t occur in front of elders or in certain areas, like churches, schools, and community centers, Tulier-Laiwa said. “Now we have to add another to the list: Public gatherings.”
William Cartegena-Ortiz, now a small-business commissioner, concurred. He could understand young people’s internal struggles, having served time once himself. “Whether you don’t agree with someone, that’s cool, but remember, we’re on sacred land,” Ortiz-Cartagena said. “This is a blessing. You gotta respect this.”
A unified attitude could prevent disagreements, too. “We need to focus on what we have in common,” Ortiz-Cartagena said. “We all need food. The Mission has great food,” he quipped.
“All youth are beautiful … even the ones who maybe sometimes don’t make the right decision. It’s okay,” Tulier-Laiwa said. “We’ll straighten them out.”