Protests throughout the Peninsula have proliferated this month. Starting with a protest against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on June 1, they've continued, with hundreds rallying to call for police reform.
The most recent protests have surfaced local demands, with a June 12 protest calling on Facebook to stop funding the Menlo Park Police Department and Amazon to halt contracts with police departments, prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the American military. A June 16 protest called on the city of Menlo Park to continue to fund services in its Belle Haven neighborhood at the Onetta Harris Community Center and the Menlo Park Senior Center.
Another Black Lives Matter protest was held on June 11, where about 250 demonstrators first gathered in downtown Palo Alto and marched to Menlo Park to oppose police violence, including the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
At the June 12 protest, hundreds of people gathered at Farrell Park in East Palo Alto, where rally organizers described the shortcomings they've identified in local law enforcement agencies.
That night, the names of Floyd, Taylor and other black people killed at the hands of police echoed through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park during a rally that at one point brought traffic to a standstill on the Dumbarton Bridge.
Rally organizer JT Faraji, who founded Tha Hood Squad Art Collective and The Real Community Coalition, said that East Palo Alto police are not working hard enough to hold other police departments, particularly Menlo Park police, accountable when they enter the city and aggressively respond to incidents.
Activists also raised concerns over private companies benefiting from their contracts with police and prisons, including Amazon and Facebook, which they said profit from a "racist criminal injustice system."
A flyer for the event highlighted past Facebook donations to Menlo Park police. The company's 2017 offer promised to distribute $11.2 million in funds to start a new police unit to cover the Facebook campuses and nearby areas that were recently rezoned for redevelopment over the next five years.
Organizers claimed Amazon earned "billions" through contracts with police departments, prisons, ICE and the American military. The event also supported efforts to end mass incarceration and defund and demilitarize police, according to the flyer.
The group disputed recent statements from Amazon and Facebook that showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, viewing them as a public facade.
The peaceful rally that spanned about four hours began at 5 p.m. at Farrell Park, where demonstrators listened to local activists and were given ground rules, such as not throwing rocks or igniting fireworks. Chanting "no justice no peace, no racist police," marchers made their way through East Palo Alto, where drummers playing from the back of a truck accompanied their calls.
By 6:30 p.m., the group reached Amazon's University Avenue offices, then made their way east to Menlo Park. About an hour later, they reached Bayfront Expressway near the Dumbarton Bridge, where California Highway Patrol officers and their vehicles blocked the freeway entrance.
Traffic on the bridge came to a standstill as the protesters continued chanting and knelt down for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a handcuffed Floyd was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer's knee on his neck on May 25. Some drivers and passengers caught in the backup joined the moment of silence.
"Marching is a way of spreading awareness," Kenan Moos said to the crowd. Moos, a Los Altos High School graduate, co-organized a protest in Los Altos attended by hundreds of people on June 5. At Friday's rally, he said showing up was the first step – people need to take action and vote.
The group then marched to Facebook headquarters down the street for speeches from local activists that criticized the relationship between the social media giant and Menlo Park police before returning to the park at about 9 p.m.
Faraji said in a June 15 interview that he was happy with the turnout and the resonance of the protest's message among attendees.
He said he also opposed Facebook's contribution to fund policing in the city of Menlo Park in 2017.
At the time, Faraji told the Menlo Park City Council, "When you have that many more police patrolling the area and no increase in crime, there is a tendency for over-policing and that can sometimes result in racial profiling." He said he was also "concerned about a private corporation that is going to be funding public officials. ... Instead of being beholden to the public, public servants will be beholden to a private company."
Of the recent community activism, Faraji said, "One thing that's come out of this is a lot of unity and solidarity not just with East Palo Alto and other cities, but among East Palo Alto residents. I'm really happy to see that the young in East Palo Alto are not just turning out but turning out in solidarity with each other."
"It was definitely a piece of Peninsula history I don't think people will forget anytime soon," he said.
On Tuesday evening, June 16, about 50 Belle Haven residents and supporters gathered at the corner of Ivy Drive and Willow Road to protest proposed budget cuts to Menlo Park's Onetta Harris Community Community and the Belle Haven Senior Center.
The City Council has discussed keeping the community center and senior center closed ahead of a plan in the works to build a new community center. The project, led by Facebook, is currently scheduled to begin demolition work in March.
The protest, organized by Belle Haven resident Brigith Babb, who volunteers at the senior center, and Patty Mayall, who teaches classes there, was an effort to protect community programs in Belle Haven. Mayall teaches music appreciation, stress management and art, and said that staff members at the senior center have worked hard during the pandemic to deliver materials for classes, as well as groceries and food to seniors in the community.
"Without the senior center, seniors will stay at home and deteriorate," said Babb, who said she relied on the center to provide needed respite while she was a caregiver for her mother.
"For most of us, it was our second home," said Ismael O., a regular at the senior center. "Without the center it's like being in hell."
Rev. Teirrah McNair, who is a pastor at Fountain of Life Global Christian Ministries and identifies as a senior herself, sat at the protest with a microphone, leading chants like "No cuts! No cuts! No cuts – they make us bleed!" and "Build this community up, don't tear it down!"
As a longtime resident of Belle Haven, she said, she saw her father fight for the same things – equality and sufficient services for her neighborhood.
"When you start messing with seniors and babies you're treading on dangerous ground," she said, referring to the council's earlier discussions about cutting child care services to balance the city's budget. It voted last week to keep offering child care services, and increase rates for families at the Burgess Park child care center but not the one in Belle Haven.
Another reason for her concern, McNair said, is that in earlier conversations with Facebook about the new Belle Haven community center, which will include senior services, a new library and youth center, the company's representatives had taken the time to meet with seniors in the community and hear them out.
Since the pandemic started, she said, those meetings, including discussions of how to continue senior services during the construction of the new project, have largely dissipated. The current plan is to bus seniors across town to the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center.
McNair said she's deeply opposed to any cuts to staff at the Belle Haven Senior Center. Taking care of seniors is hard work – she said she took care of one senior for 10 years, and it felt like the work of seven people. To think two or three staff members at the center would be sufficient "doesn't make sense," she said.
The city has scheduled a telephone town hall at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 18, to hear input from the community on policing practices, after which the City Council will hold a study session to discuss possible responses. Call 1-877-229-8493 and enter the PIN code 119449 to participate.
A BBQ and protest is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 20, in East Palo Alto at Jack Farrell Park, 2509 Fordham St., in recognition of Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. Attendees are advised to bring their own grills and food and maintain social distancing requirements. The event will also celebrate black graduates of the class of 2020.
Chief visual journalist Magali Gauthier contributed to this report.