Scores of gang members descended on Bohnett Park yesterday, and yet the only fight of the day was over who collected the most Easter eggs.
Yesterday’s congregation was actually a celebration of a recent truce signed by gangs such as the Eastside Gangsters, Westside Destroyers and G-13 members. The landmark truce, the first of its kind, was signed by gang elders and promised three 24-hour periods free from gang violence and animosity, aimed at allowing the different factions to mix without fear. Yesterday was the second day of peace.
Babatunde Folayemi, a youth activist and former city council member, said the symbolism of a physical document makes it more powerful.
“You can’t say enough about symbolism,” Folayemi said. “Making a symbolic statement makes its impact very big.”
Folayemi, a former gang member from Harlem, has worked with Santa Barbara gangs since 1992. He negotiated with gang leaders for about a month for the truce signing which followed concerns over rising gang violence in the Santa Barbara area.
Since last year, Santa Barbara has had two murders, over 40 arrests and various acts of violence and robbery. Authorities estimate that 1,200 gang members live in southern Santa Barbara County and that the average age of a given member is about 14 years old.
Yesterday’s gathering, which was attended by about 200 people, was substantially larger than last week’s, which was held in Ortega Park. Next Sunday, for the final 24-hour truce, the gangs will gather at the Isla Vista Teen Center.
Folayemi said the three different locations were chosen to create a peaceful gathering on the territory of the three major gangs.
“All the communities are connected by the 101,” Folayemi said. “It’s like an artery. So, if one [community] has peace but not another, it’s not good.”
Elvira Quiroga, a Lower Westside Center advising board member, said she came to the gathering to support her community and talk to the young attendees.
“We’re finally getting students together,” Quiroga said. “They need support from the community. They’re good kids, they just need help … We need more activities like this, and we need more people who want to get out there and help.”
The gathering featured games for kids, a jolly jumper, free tacos, a DJ, an Easter egg hunt, a raffle and prizes. Mothers made Easter baskets with toys and candy donated by local businesses and organizations.
Santa Barbara City College student Anabell Martinez said her sister and sister’s boyfriend helped sponsor the event and that she was looking forward to the kids’ Easter egg hunt, which her daughters were most excited about. She also said she was glad people came despite heavy police presence.
“It’s keeping kids out of trouble and bringing people together,” Martinez said.
Folayemi said he hopes for an even larger turnout at the third gathering this coming Sunday. He said one small step at a time can lead to a big difference.
“It’s not ending violence, but it’s a start,” Folayemi said.