In the second weekend since the death of George Floyd, thousands of protesters flocked to Palo Alto City Hall on Saturday afternoon, where local leaders, parents and youth grabbed onto the momentum of what's now a global movement of protests in order to call attention to harmful police policies and entrenched racial problems within the Midpeninsula.
"For those who say that Palo Alto is segregated because of the cost of living, know this: There are black and brown people who can afford to live here," said Diana Mazuera, 31, a Latina Palo Alto resident and Google employee, who spoke during the open mike session of the protest. "But black and brown people feel othered at work; black and brown people feel othered on the street; black and brown people don't want to feel othered at home — it's exhausting."
The protest, which was organized by four students — Ayinde Olukotun, Cleo Goodwin and Katarina and Yasmine Hamady — attracted elected and community leaders, including U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine, Menlo Park Mayor Cecilia Taylor, East Palo Alto Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones, author and activist Julie Lythcott-Haims and former judge LaDoris Cordell, among others.
Speakers took the opportunity to call for major policy changes in policing. Eshoo said that on Monday, she'll be introducing to the House of Representatives sweeping reforms such as eliminating the use of military-grade equipment and chokeholds in the police force. Similarly, Wallace-Jones urged the support of "8 Can't Wait," a recent campaign aimed to decrease police violence through a set of eight new policies.
Several speakers including Cordell, a former Palo Alto City Council member, seized the moment to tell a crowd of mostly young protesters to vote President Donald Trump out of the White House.
Rev. Kaloma Smith of the University AME Zion Church addressed more local issues such as lifting the restricted access to Foothills Park and instituting a policy in the Palo Alto Police Department that prevents the hiring of officers with disciplinary actions on their records, which were both addressed in a recent guest opinion for the Palo Alto Weekly.
(In his op-ed he urged the city to adopt the "8 Can't Wait" policies; the Palo Alto Police Department follows two of them: requiring a warning before shooting, and obligating officers to intervene if they see use of unreasonable force.)
Many of the youth members of the protest used this opportunity to voice experiences of racism within their own community.
Enola Talbert, 17, a student at Mountain View High School, recalled being in day care when she first "realized she was black."
"I was hanging out with one of my other black friends … and we wanted someone else to join us, so we asked this Caucasian kid," Talbert said in a speech. "He said, 'No, I cannot play with you because your skin is dirty.' I was floored. I did not know why he said that."
Cleo Goodwin, 20, who is graduating from De Anza College, called for an end to the endless loop of hashtags, videos and "the R.I.Ps" that follow the senseless death of a black individual.
"This city, this country, is way too comfortable with black people being uncomfortable," Goodwin said.
During a 4-mile march, which began and ended at King Plaza in front of City Hall, people took their signs and their chants through downtown Palo Alto to El Camino Real, Oregon Expressway and through Old Palo Alto, where drivers, diners and residents were interrupted by shouts of "No Justice, No Peace;" "Black Lives Matter;" and "I can't breathe."
One Twitter user posted a video of Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry at the rally repeating the chant: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go."
In a sea of cardboard signs calling for change, some posters were directed at Palo Alto's history and presence of racist practices.
Olga Muys, 15, held a sign that read "No Justice, no peace" in the front and "Palo Alto was built on redlining" on the back.
"In English class, this year, we learned about the history of redlining and the effect that it had on the creation of the Palo Alto and East Palo Alto we live in today," said Muys, a Palo Alto High School student. "I wanted to bring attention to it because I think a lot of people forgot how we got here."
Other signs called out the Palo Alto Police Department, stating that the department had not banned chokeholds and that its arrest records revealed "more racial bias than 81% of CA depts," according to policescorecard.org
In an interview, Cordell said Palo Alto was the perfect city in which to hold a protest because, among other reasons, its police department has no ban on chokeholds and decisions such as the recent citywide curfew are driven by "racial fear."
"Right there, there are people who were well-intentioned, who are asymptomatic when it comes to racism," Cordell said. "That's why this is a perfect city in which to have this protest — at King Plaza, at Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Plaza."
For many black residents of Palo Alto, seeing crowds of protesters recognizing that black lives matter inspired a new feeling of visibility and acceptance within their own community.
"I really wanted to see whether the people of this primarily white community would come out and stand with us," said Michel-Ange Siaba, 21, a Paly graduate and Palo Alto resident of about 10 years. "This is the first time where I felt like this community, as a whole, stands with me and accepts me."
Olukotun, a recent Menlo School graduate and organizer of a protest on June 1 as well, said the demonstrations were not only a way to address racism within local communities but also a call-to-action for cities such as Palo Alto.
"It's not just a problem of underprivileged communities, of communities with a large population of people of color, of communities that have police brutality or over-policing — this is everyone's problem," Olukotun, 18, said. "And fixing it is not incumbent on those communities, it's incumbent on people and communities like Palo Alto that have privilege and have the power to make change."