An emergency meeting of 300 gang members was held here Saturday to preserve a peace treaty that has been shaken by a rash of gang killings and assaults.
The United Gang Council summoned gang members from Santa Ana, Stanton, San Clemente and other cities in Orange County to seek continued support for the treaty signed in August.
Del Espinosa, a council organizer, said recent violence has threatened to undermine the treaty.
"As I walked through several neighborhoods there were guys walking up to me wondering if the treaty was still happening," Espinosa said. "You can see by the number of people here it still is."
Beginning at noon, more than 25 gangs slowly filtered into El Salvador Park and kept their distance for the first two hours. Members from some rival gangs looked at each other warily but refrained from any confrontations.
But as the meeting progressed, rival gang members slowly moved closer together.
Billy Moisam, a 35-year-old former gang member, decried the violence he fears is threatening the treaty.
"Before when I was growing up it was just fights," he said. "You took off your shirt and did it with knuckles. But now . . . what's the use. Even if you win you have to worry about the guy coming back and beating you with a club or shooting you with a gun.""
Pete Ojeda, a council leader, left his sickbed to attend the meeting and urge gang members to continue the peace.
"It doesn't mean anything if you pick up a gun and shoot somebody," he said. "Anybody can pick up a gun and shoot somebody. That doesn't mean you're cool or brave."
At least seven gang-related murders have been reported by authorities since Jan. 1, said Orange County sheriff's officials.
Saturday's peace summit also helped strengthen the council after the March 28 death of a key organizer, Bobby Flores, who lost his life to cancer. Efforts to preserve the treaty also suffered when several influential gang leaders died in gang-related violence.
Alfredo Amezcua, an attorney who advises the council, said another meeting is scheduled for May 22, and a peace march is also being organized.
"Part of our goal is to develop leadership and to have role models," Amezcua said. "But it takes time--it can't be done overnight."
Amezcua also asked for volunteers to begin a peace patrol to make sure violence is kept away from local schools. More than a dozen gang members from different neighborhoods volunteered.