The names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black people killed at the hands of police echoed through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park on Friday evening during a rally that at one point brought traffic to a standstill on the Dumbarton Bridge.
In front of hundreds of people who first gathered at Farrell Park in East Palo Alto, rally organizers described the shortcomings they've identified in local law enforcement agencies. 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 over a five-year period.
Organizers claimed Amazon earned "billions" through contracts with police departments, prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the American military. The event also supported efforts to end mass incarceration and defund and demilitarize police, according to the flyer.
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 in 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 kneeled down for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd was in a chokehold as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled 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 and that 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.
The demonstration blocked traffic on Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, prompting Menlo Park police to issue a traffic advisory that expired around 9:30 p.m.
Faraji said afterward in a June 15 interview that he was happy with the turnout and the resonance of the protest's message among attendees.
Faraji also opposed actions by Facebook and the city of Menlo Park in 2017 when the city opted to accept a voluntary $11.2 million donation from Facebook to fund a new police unit to expand patrols along the the city's Bayside.
At the time, he 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 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," he said. "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 added.
The rally, which was among dozens of protests scheduled Friday through Sunday in the Bay Area, kicked off the third weekend of protests that have erupted across the country against police brutality.
A Black Lives Matter protest was also held on June 11, where about 250 demonstrators first gathered in downtown Palo Alto and marched to Menlo Park. View images from the demonstration here:
Almanac reporter Kate Bradshaw contributed to this story.