In a neighborhood where the wrong color spotted by the wrong eyes can spark a violent confrontation, bright orange briefly took over West Ninth Street in Santa Rosa on Friday night.
About 50 people — more than half of them children — pulled orange T-shirts with “Santa Rosa” written on the front over their clothes near a playground at Puerta Villa apartments across West Ninth from Lincoln Elementary School, where just over two weeks ago children found a gun hidden under a building.
Led by Santa Rosa police officers and city staff, parents pushing strollers and older children bouncing along on foot marched around the apartment complex, then about a half-mile down West Ninth Street to North Dutton Avenue and back to make a point in the neighborhood where gang violence has been a texture of life for decades.
“The simple message is ‘This is our neighborhood’ and ‘No to violence,’ ” Rafael Rivero, community outreach specialist with the Santa Rosa Mayor’s Gang Task Force, said to the group.
The city held Friday’s “Night Walk” as part of the city’s annual Gang Prevention Awareness Week. The event follows a spate of gang-related assaults and incidents — fights, gunfire and a gun at the elementary school police suspect was hidden by gang members.
“I think a lot of us who live here are just families — and only some have problems,” said Gonzalo Galdan, 40, who lives at Puerta Villa and works at Amy’s Kitchen. “It’s good for people to see their neighbors are here, we are around.”
A group of boys, swimming in their orange T-shirts, said they were proud to wear “Santa Rosa” on their clothes and liked marching around their neighborhood with the police.
“Free ice cream” was the main draw for Jonathan Zargoza, 11, he said.
“The exercise, it’s a cardio workout,” said Eliseo Reyes, also 11.
But the boys and their friends also nodded when asked if gangs were a matter of life in the neighborhood.