More than 70 people marched for peace in a steady rain in the South End Thursday night after recent shootings left one man dead and prompted calls for action from residents.
The marchers held candles and flowers and moved from Blackstone Square park to Aguadilla Street, where 25-year-old Wellington Ruiz was fatally shot on Dec. 9, before concluding the event at O'Day Playground.
On Aguadilla Street, the procession stopped by a memorial for Ruiz that included flowers, liquor bottles, and his photo, observing a moment of silence before Emily Duval, 14, read a prayerful reflection written by Maya Angelou.
"Father, Mother, God," Duval read. "Thank you for your presence during the hard and mean days, for then we have you to lean upon."
Earlier, Mayor Martin J. Walsh told the crowd that "this is a very special community."
"We need to make sure that our community's safe every single night," Walsh said. "What we should be doing is having walks to help and guide our young people to make sure there's opportunities for them."
Police Commissioner William B. Evans also attended and told reporters that while he understands residents' concerns, the South End has improved dramatically in recent years.
"Believe me, this neighborhood is a safe neighborhood and very vibrant," he said.
The commissioner added that crime is generally trending down in the area.
"We have a lot more violence in some of Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester, and we work hard every day to bring [crime in] those neighborhoods down," he said. "This is one homicide [in the South End]. We should all be alarmed by it, but it's a safe neighborhood."
While some residents have called for an increased police presence after the shootings earlier this month of Ruiz and other victims who survived, a few teenagers who joined Thursday's march were skeptical.
"I believe that more cops [are] going to harass more minority teens because of the way we dress and because of certain areas we're around," said Alex Maizonett, 17. "I do understand that there's a safety reason, though."
There should be more community events in the neighborhood, he said.
"Basketball leagues, community cookouts," he said. "Just to bring everyone together."
Also among the speakers was the Rev. Mark V. Scott, a Dorchester pastor who said he attended a memorial service for Ruiz earlier in the day.
"It was clear to me that [Ruiz's family and friends] had a lot of love for him," Scott said. "If you take the love that you feel for the person that you are grieving for ... that love connects you to God."
At O'Day Playground, another moment of silence was held before Maizonett read a version of St. Francis's prayer for peace.
"Lord, make us an instrument of your peace," he read. "Where there is hatred, let us sow love."