Hundreds of protesters marched through Menlo Park and into Palo Alto on Monday to protest police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last week.
The action started in Menlo Park on Monday morning and carried over into El Palo Alto Park in Palo Alto by noon. The group made their way down El Camino Real during the early afternoon hours. By about 3:30 p.m., they blocked Oregon Expressway, where westbound lanes were blocked at Middlefield Road, according to emergency radio dispatch reports. At about 4 p.m., protesters were on the Oregon Expressway overpass that overlooks U.S. Highway 101.
The protest is 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.
The video prompted widespread outrage, including criticism from many law enforcement agencies, with police chiefs throughout the country condemning the officer's actions. On Twitter, Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen said he hoped "we would never again experience such unrest" as seen in the 1992 Los Angeles riots when he worked as a sheriff's deputy. "Wise insight of others can help us move forward together. Mindfulness alone is by no means a magic solution to centuries of systemic oppression, but it may play a role in positive change," he said Saturday.
"Law enforcement agencies strive to serve their communities with respect and professionalism. Selfless officers repeatedly show their commitment to keeping cities safe," Jonsen issued another tweet posted Sunday. "Violence against those who serve is not the path for progress, let’s work together in supporting positive change."
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.
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.
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."
Mountain View police say they have received several questions and concerns about riots occurring elsewhere in the Bay Area, and that the department will take steps to ensure residents can peacefully and safely protest. The department is asking anyone who sees behavior that damages or destroys property to call 911.
This story will be updated.