Hundreds of protesters marched through Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto on Monday to protest police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed while in Minneapolis police custody last week.
Floyd's death, captured on a bystander's video, has triggered widespread demonstrations across the U.S. Some have resulted in violence.
An estimated 100-200 people, many of whom were students, marched through Palo Alto and blocked lanes on Oregon Expressway leading to U.S. Highway 101 at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday, according to emergency-radio dispatch reports. At about 4 p.m., protesters crossed the Oregon overpass and walked onto the freeway, blocking northbound lanes. A California Highway Patrol unit was sent to the scene, dispatchers said.
By about 4:30 p.m., the group was walking north toward University Avenue, and East Palo Alto police officers blocked the area of University Avenue and Donohoe Street near Ikea so the group would exit. Additional police units blocked the next northbound exit at Willow Road in Menlo Park from protesters.
The chanting crowd mostly exited the freeway and then headed west over the University Avenue/Highway 101 overpass and toward downtown Palo Alto. Palo Alto police also sent units to Town & Country Village and Stanford Shopping Center in case the crowd headed toward either.
However, the group of about 150 to 200 youth assembled outside of Palo Alto City Hall, where they got down on one knee together and raised their fists in the air. Their protest ended at about 5:40 p.m.
Meanwhile, about 10 to 15 protesters tried to enter the freeway from University, where police blocked the entrance.
East Palo Alto police also tracked a group of youth on bicycles who were starting to converge near Ikea and at the Ravenswood 101 Shopping Center. They expected to keep an eye on the area after dark, according to dispatch reports.
There were still scattered protesters near the freeway and University Avenue at 6:08 p.m. Most people were on the sidewalk but some caused traffic slowdowns by being in the street, according to police dispatch.
Demonstrations continued into the evening, with people gathering and dispersing and then joining new groups. Most of the activity took place in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, though some people took their protest to Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. While the majority of people remained peaceful, there were dispatcher reports of attempted break-ins of buildings, fireworks were thrown at police and one incident of an officer pulling a gun.
About 100 protesters and numerous vehicles gathered in East Palo Alto at 6:30 p.m. and headed west over the University Avenue/Highway 101 overpass, where police blocked traffic in that direction. The protesters moved onto southbound Highway 101 from University, occupying all four lanes, according to dispatch reports. Multiple local police units and CHP officers were also on the freeway.
At 6:45 p.m., the protesters crossed onto the northbound side of the freeway and temporarily blocked traffic in both directions between University and Embarcadero Road.
At 6:50 p.m., the CHP cleared southbound lanes of the highway, but in a game of cat-and-mouse, some protesters jumped back and forth between the northbound and southbound sides of the highway, as law enforcement tried to corral them and move them toward the Capitol Avenue off-ramp near Ikea.
Amid the confusion, police also reported contending with at least two wrong-way drivers.
A second wave of largely peaceful protesters grew to between 200 and 300 people by 7:30 p.m. as they converged on the East Palo Alto Police Department headquarters on Demeter Street, according to police dispatch. Police asked for assistance from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and other cities' law enforcement.
About 150 of the protesters marched down Clarke Avenue toward Ravenswood 101 Shopping Center.
Throughout the evening, it appeared that there was no single leader of the protests and no one particular destination.
A long motorcade of protesters continuously circled the Menlo Park-East Palo Alto area, with Menlo Park police officers and San Mateo County sheriff's deputies directing the procession by blocking off certain parts of the streets or following from behind.
Many people sat on the window sills or sunroofs of their cars, holding signs and chanting, "Black Lives Matter." Hip-hop music was the soundtrack of the evening with rapper YG's "FDT (F--- Donald Trump)" regularly blasting out of several cars.
East Palo Alto residents watching from street corners or the front lawns of their home said they've never seen and heard so many people demonstrate before in their community.
"(Protests) usually move to the larger cities," said Ziva Delrio, 25, a 14-year East Palo Alto resident. "We're such a small community, so we don't get these kinds of numbers that would feel like it would make a difference. It's really nice to see my city do it. That's why I forced my mom to come out with me."
"I grew up here. I live among these people, people of color," she said. "I'm a person of color, so I feel for their pain."
"It was so aggravating honestly," Delrio said of George Floyd's death. "There's so many other places on the body that you can put your knee on without putting so much pain on a person and still being able to do your job properly."
J.T. Faraji, 43, an East Palo Alto-based artist who previously led a protest against a $9.1 million donation from Facebook to help expand the Menlo Park Police Department in 2017 and helped lead Monday night's protests with the aid of a megaphone, said the protest represents a long battle against overpolicing in his neighborhood.
"This is a fight we've been fighting — against criminalizaition in our neighborhood, overpolicing in our neighborhood — and it's all linked in with this police murder," Faraji said. "It's not just George Floyd. It's all these things that have been accumulating."
He acknowledged that some police officers feel as outraged about brutality as he does.
"One moment that made me really proud tonight was seeing several East Palo Alto police officers take a knee," he said. "If all of those other cops from those other communities would have taken a knee, it would have stopped right there. People just want to feel respected."
East Palo Alto resident Nona Turner said the protest was necessary. Though she didn't condone the looting she has seen in the media, Turner felt she understood where some of the anger was coming from.
"They want to be heard. We need to be heard," Turner said. "This has been something that's been happening for so long. It just took one more murder to take it over the top."
The smell of burnt rubber lingered in the air on some streets. Fireworks and firecrackers regularly popped off throughout the evening.
A few agitators confronted sheriffs and police officers, nearly tipping what was largely a loud but peaceful demonstration. Around 8:45 p.m., someone tossed a firecracker toward sheriff's deputies. It rolled underneath their squad car, which was parked in the middle of the intersection at Cooley Avenue and Donohoe Street.
One officer drew a gun while another commanded, "Get down on the ground."
Farachi claimed that those individuals were not with the protesters. The younger protesters would even stomp out the firecrackers before he could call on people to put them out, he said.
"They weren't with us," Farachi said. "We don't want that — that's not our message."
Around 9 p.m. police learned that the crowd might be headed toward Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park and notified authorities, who set up a tactical command center at the social network giant's campus.
As many as 75 vehicles took part in a caravan that stretched from O'Brien Court in Menlo Park and down Kavanaugh Avenue to Gloria Way in East Palo Alto, according to dispatchers.
At about 9:30 p.m., multiple vehicles were seen going the wrong way east on Willow Road Sheriff's deputies asked police to shut down local roads because of the marchers.
About 150 demonstrators and a vehicle caravan also headed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's home in Palo Alto, dispatchers reported. Security personnel reported to police that the demonstrators had arrived at his home at about 10:55 p.m. The protesters stayed briefly before returning to University and Woodland avenues and heading back to East Palo Alto.
Some vandalism took place during the night. Early on, police scrambled to intercept people who were reportedly trying to break into a building in the 1200 block of Weeks Street by prying plywood off of it.
While the procession to Facebook was going on, someone broke a window at the AutoZone on University Avenue in East Palo Alto. A large group of people was seen armed with guns held in the air at Willow Road and Ivy Drive, according to police dispatch.
Fireworks hit a patrol car and a small fire ignited the vegetation at the Highway 101 cloverleaf interchange near University Avenue. A few demonstrators helped put it out, according to police dispatch.
Someone also threw fireworks on the freeway at about 11:15 p.m. People were also lighting off fireworks at the intersection of University and Donohoe, prompting police to tell people to go home or they would be arrested.
Around midnight, a group of protesters threw rocks at fire engines that were out on calls, according to a dispatch report.
Hours earlier, Menlo Park's protest began at 11 a.m. with a separate group of people who knelt on the lawn at Menlo Park's Burgess Park in total silence for 9 minutes to mark the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd's neck on May 25, killing him. Only the sounds from nearby birds could be heard.
The event also included chants, speeches and a march to El Camino Park in Palo Alto, which was peaceful, with many teenage students and families with children, many wearing masks, in attendance.
Both Menlo Park's mayor, Cecilia Taylor, and police chief, Dave Bertini, offered remarks in support of the diverse group of protesters.
Taylor, the first African American woman to serve as mayor of Menlo Park, told attendees that she is the fourth generation in her family to experience racial profiling.
"That, for me, as an elected official, I want to change while I'm in office. That's a part of my duty," she said. "I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. But I hurt too. I fear for my stepsons' lives. I fear for my nephews' lives every day. … I fear for my husband's life. And all I can do is pray, and make change with policy and continue to connect with people who want to have comprehensive conversations about change in America, about change in our cities, about change in our communities."
Bertini said that the police officers present were there to protect the protesters. "We understand your anger," he said. "We are here to keep you safe."
Before and after the 9-minute silence, people shouted chants such as "No justice! No peace! No racist police!" and "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"
After the silent protest, the group marched from Burgess Park to El Camino Park in Palo Alto along Alma Street, where it reconvened for speeches and remarks from students and adults who wanted to share their comments.
Several other demonstrators said they attended because they felt it was too important not to.
"There have been way too many instances for me to stay silent," said Penelope Penfold-Patterson, a Menlo Park resident and student at Menlo School. "It's time for it to end."
Others said they attended because they wanted their community to show solidarity and demonstrate, as one attendee who asked not to be named put it, "that we don't live in a bubble."
Students and adults passed the megaphone around, sharing their experiences and advocacy ideas. Atherton and Menlo Park are among the wealthiest communities in the country, one speaker said. "If you're not donating yet, what are you doing with your money?"
Kylie Cheung, a recent college graduate, said she grew up in Fremont and was uncomfortable with anti-black sentiment she had witnessed among some upper middle-class, non-white people, including among some Asian Americans. "It's not enough to be non-racist," she said. "We have to be anti-racist." She urged the community to divest police funding and invest funds in health care and housing.
The protest was organized by 16-year-old Menlo-Atherton High School student Daniel Roman, who said he was feeling frustrated at seeing the news of Floyd's death. Organizing the protest was a first for him, and he was nervous, he said in an interview.
He created an online invitation on Friday night to see if people would be interested in holding a small protest.
However, word of the event quickly exploded after the invitation spread on social media. By the time the protest began, he said that he had initially expected only 40 or 50 people to attend but RSVPs had ballooned to 430.
There to help lead the protest were more experienced activists Henry Shane, a junior at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto and Erin Jinishian, a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School. Shane and Jinishian met while working at True Food Kitchen in Palo Alto and began attending climate strike rallies together. They said they found the activism empowering and offered their experience to Roman when they learned he was planning the Menlo Park protest.
They said they'd been worried the event could get unruly. "That's the risk you take," said Jinishian."That's part of protesting."
Shane said that the event organizers discussed how to organize the protest, noting that the audience is primarily white or non-black, and may not have had experiences that enable full understanding of black experiences. Jinishian's poster summarized her perspective: "I will use my voice to amplify yours."
Many protesters carried posters bearing statements like "Black Lives Matter," "Silence is Betrayal," "Showing Up 4 Racial Justice," and "Defund the Police."
One mother, Cathleen Hartge, attended with her 3-year-old son. She explained to him that they were there because "people need to stop making sad choices and being mean to people who don't look like them."
Menlo Park resident Samira Sankaran, while marching toward Palo Alto along the Alma Street bike path with family member Mallika, said they initially attended to participate in the silent protest and see what was going on, but then joined in the march because they felt it was important.
Menlo Park Councilwoman Betsy Nash was also in attendance. "It's wonderful to see so many people," she said, and added that the protest was making her think about promoting equity in the city's development plans, including efforts to get a pharmacy and grocery store in District 1, which has a greater proportion of black and Latinx residents than other areas of Menlo Park.
As the protesters filed out of El Camino Park to begin their walk back to Burgess Park, Taylor said she hoped the event would provide an opportunity for community change. She wanted to reassure youth that everything isn't corrupt; that their health and wellness matters.
The event marked what appears to be the first large gathering in the community since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns started. While initial efforts to keep people 6 feet apart were followed, people gathered into closer proximity as the marching began.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department sent out an advisory Monday that it "recognizes that peaceful protest in response to the pain, anger and mourning due to deeply rooted inequities and systemic racism is a fundamental right that is critical to the health of our democracy. As residents of the county exercise this right, we respectfully remind everyone that our community is still facing a health crisis as COVID-19 is still present."
The department urges people who have been in close contact with others in large gatherings to get free COVID-19 testing within three to five days of exposure. Find a free testing site here.
The protests are the latest in a series of public demonstrations since Friday, including two held in Mountain View on Friday and Sunday. Event organizers from the group Mountain View Voices for Peace and Justice say the event attracted as many as 250 people to the intersection of Castro Street and El Camino Real, eliciting supportive honking from passing vehicles. On Sunday, a silent protest was held outside of Town & Country Village shopping center in Palo Alto, where many condemned Floyd's death from the corner of El Camino Real and Embarcadero Road.
Protests throughout the Bay Area and across the country have proliferated since Friday. Floyd was detained by police officers in a small neighborhood south of Minneapolis on May 25 after he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. Video footage of the incident shows Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his right knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Chauvin, who was fired after the incident, was arrested on May 29 on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Organizers of the Mountain View protests urged participants to wear masks and spread out as much as possible to adhere to public safety guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, using all four corners of the popular intersection. They said the public display was not just for the death of Floyd, but other attacks fueled by racism and the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on black and Latino communities.
"We are not only protesting the death of George Floyd and other high-profile killings of African Americans, but the institutional racism that has caused the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color," said Lenny Siegel, a former Mountain View councilman who led the event.
Friday saw large protests in San Jose that extended into Saturday, where participants marched through downtown streets, blocked Highway 101 and in some cases clashed with police. The city later announced on Sunday a weeklong curfew following "civil unrest, including looting and rioting, in the downtown area of San Jose that resulted in arrests, injuries, fire and significant property damage."
An even larger evening protest in Oakland drew thousands of people and, though it started peacefully, by nightfall led to smashed windows, fires and spray-painted buildings.
The video of the incident prompted widespread outrage, including criticism from many law enforcement agencies, with police chiefs throughout the country condemning the officer's actions.
"We condemn the actions and inaction of the police officers in Minnesota and we do not tolerate or condone this type of behavior in Palo Alto at any level," according to a joint statement issued Monday by City Manager Ed Shikada; Police Chief Robert Jonsen; the Rev. Kaloma Smith, chairman of the Human Relations Commission and pastor of University AME Zion Church; and Pastor Paul Bains, president and co-founder of the nonprofit Project WeHope and Palo Alto police chaplain. "No police department is immune from public scrutiny, nor should it be."
The group called for "change through equity and inclusion" and sent their condolences to Floyd's family. "We recognize the calls for systemic change that this and other tragedies demand."
Jonsen also sent out tweets over the weekend, one of said the "wise insight of others can help us move forward together."
Mountain View Police Chief Max Bosel released a statement calling the incident "aberrant, inexcusable and inexplicable," saying it runs contrary to the "tremendous service" officers perform each day.
During his daily press conference on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the protests that have sparked across the state.
Speaking from Genesis Church in south Sacramento, Newsom recognized people's right to peacefully protest, but admonished those who were using the moment to loot businesses and incite violence.
"For those of you out there protesting, I want you to know you matter and I want you to know I care — we care," Newsom said. "You've lost patience, so have I. You are right to feel wronged."
Newsom did not outline any specific plan to address violence or looting during protests, but said the state is working with local leaders and ready to deploy over 4,500 members of the California National Guard.
"The looting, the violence, the threats against fellow human beings — that has no place in this state and in this nation. We as a society need to call that out."
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.