In Menlo Park, a June 1 protest began when people knelt on the lawn at Burgess Park in total silence to mark the eight minutes and 46 seconds Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck, killing him. Only the sounds from nearby birds could be heard.
The event also included chants, speeches and a peaceful march to El Camino Park in Palo Alto, 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, who knelt during the silent protest, 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 nine-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 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 in the Asian American community. "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 May 29 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. He said that he had initially expected only 40 or 50 people to attend, but RSVPs 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 City Council members Betsy Nash and Ray Mueller were also in attendance. "It's wonderful to see so many people," Nash 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 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 June 1 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.
Later in the week, the city hosted a tele-town hall with Taylor and Bertini, available at menlopark.org/townhallJune4.
A number of other protests have been held in East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Mountain View and Los Altos, many of which were organized by students. On Friday, June 12, a protest is set for 5 p.m. at Jack Farrell Park, 2509 Fordham St. in East Palo Alto. Participants are encouraged to wear masks, practice social distancing and bring drums or musical instruments.
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