East Palo Alto community organizers held a "Stop the Violence" march and rally Sunday, Oct. 14, in the wake of a pair of homicides that occurred within three blocks of each other on Oct. 5.
A crowd of about 50 gathered at the Home Depot on East Bayshore Road and marched to Jack Farrell Park chanting "No more crime, no more guns, stop the violence" as additional people joined the procession. The crowd grouped around the park's basketball courts where an array of speakers addressed the audience.
"The violence is just not acceptable and we can't sit back and let it continue to happen without voicing our opinion," Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier, one of the march's organizers, said.
Yarbrough-Gauthier, a 38-year resident of East Palo Alto and a candidate for City Council, spoke to the crowd about violence in the area.
"I'm frustrated because we can be a great city," she said. "But it takes everybody to be a part of this. I'm afraid when my son gets on his bike and decides to go to the store and he's gone for too long. I worry if I don't hear from him. East Palo Alto shouldn't be like that."
Despite a relatively sparse crowd, speaker Troy Henderson encouraged those present.
"The ones here are the seed. So start spreading the news about what we are doing," he said.
Yarbrough-Gauthier said she wanted the march to spur more action in the community.
"We would like to sit down with the 20-something age group and think about solutions," she said.
Former mayor Sharifa Wilson said the event's organizers could draw lessons from 20 years in the past. Wilson was mayor of East Palo Alto in 1992 when it was dubbed "murder capital of the U.S."
"The way we were (able to) get in control of the violence is that the community organized itself and sent a message that we would not put up with that," she said.
"We had a youth summit where we shared the kinds of services that were available to the community. We organized the youth-serving agencies so that we would increase and enhance the opportunities for young people to be engaged in positive activities. It's that kind of community effort that has to come together again."
Wilson said programs focusing on youth, such as stronger mentoring programs, would be the best approach to stymie violence in the city.
"We need to support them in their efforts and how to organize the young people in the community," she said. "It disturbs me that the violence is coming back."
Ben Fitch, 24, a lifelong resident of the community, attended the march.
"The people and the movement brought me out here today. I am just trying to support my community," he said.
Some speakers identified the lack of jobs in the area as a root cause for violence. East Palo Alto Mayor Laura Martinez announced upcoming job fairs.
Another speaker spoke about the drug trade and how it pays overwhelmingly more than regular jobs, and emphasized the need for education.
"If you've been selling drugs and then you get an $8 job, you're going to be mad. So, to counter that, go to school so you can make a little more money."
He also encouraged East Palo Alto residents to confront the problems they see in the community.
"How come we don't do anything about the 16-year-old driving a Benz but ain't got a job?" he said.
One of the programs in the community is the Parole Reentry Program that helps re-integrate former prisoners into the community. The program is led by Bob Hoover, who spoke at the event. Other community coalitions include various churches' involvement and the police department's Operation Ceasefire event, an anti-violence program based on a national program.
Yarbrough-Gauthier said the march's organizers have larger goals down the horizon.
"We don't want the march to end here," she said. "We want to bring volunteers to come together think about viable solutions."
A clipboard was passed around for people to get more involved. Fitch signed on.
"I want to volunteer more in the future, " he said.