To commemorate Juneteenth, activists Ruth Robertson of the Raging Grannies and Vara Ramakrishnan of Vigil for Democracy showed up at 2 a.m Friday to City Hall in downtown Palo Alto, equipped with washable paint chalk. For six hours, they said, they drew the outline of the letters "BLM" for Black Lives Matter on the Hamilton Avenue pavement, occasionally dodging the few cars on the road in the wee hours.
It was in preparation for the first of two rallies being held Friday, a day that saw continued protests against systemic racism and police brutality while also celebrating African American culture and the emancipation of slaves in the 1860s.
Starting at about noon and going until 1:30 p.m., the Grannies, Vigil for Democracy and students from Nueva School filled in the outlined letters with messages: "Justice Now," "George Floyd" and "White Silence is Violence." Police had closed the street to traffic between Ramona and Bryant streets.
A second rally was planned for 5 p.m. Friday in King Plaza. According to the organizing site SixNineteen.com, testimony about local residents' experiences with the Police Department, school district, justice system and Palo Altans were planned for the rally. more than 500 people indicated they planned to attend.
The march through downtown Palo Alto started around 6 p.m., prompting police to implement rolling closures in the area, including Middlefield Road.
Palo Alto police conducted rolling closures of downtown streets during the protest as marchers began to stream out of King Plaza. The demonstrators took a different route than police expected, according to emergency radio dispatch reports.
Officers followed them east on Hamilton Avenue at Bryant Street and blocked traffic at Middlefield Road at different intervals at Hamilton, Forest and University avenues. The marchers returned to King Plaza along Bryant Street around 6:30 p.m. and dispersed at around 6:45 p.m.
The demonstration resulted in far less scrambling for law enforcement than during previous protests, some of which have halted traffic on U.S. Highway 101. On multiple occasions earlier this month, hundreds of protesters entered the freeway and caused disruptions on Willow Road in Menlo Park, East Bayshore Road in East Palo Alto and University Avenue in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Officers from the California Highway Patrol and Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park police departments worked to divert marchers away from the freeway.
Read more about the 5 p.m. rally and march here.
The city on Friday also held its final day of free COVID-19 testing at a pop-up clinic in the City Hall lobby, which brought more than 1,500 people for tests in the prior three days, requiring waiting times between 30 minutes and an hour-and-a-half.
==Weekly Staff Writer Sue Dremann contributed to this report==.