SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Thousands of people from San Francisco, the greater Bay Area and beyond flocked to the city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday to march against police brutality, demanding that systemic racism be put to an end.
Like the massive demonstration in the city’s Mission District on Wednesday, it was a grassroots event organized by a 17-year-old girl. With some help from her friends, Tiana Day planned the march in just a couple of days.
“It’s really important that the youth today reaches out because we know we are the generation that will bring change and we will be able to conquer racism,” Day said.
She lives in the affluent East Bay suburb of San Ramon and just graduated from Dougherty Valley High School. Her father grew up in Richmond, California, a markedly less affluent town 35 miles to the northwest.
“He grew up in a completely different environment and being able to see how his struggles have led him to where I am, I just want to be able advocate for the same type of people and be good leader and a good example,” Day said.
Holding a march on the Golden Gate Bridge, she added, “is everything.”
“This is a huge landmark in California,” said Day. “For a lot of the people in the community it’s a great place to meet and all march together for a great cause.”
What started as a few dozen people gathered at the Welcome Center quickly grew exponentially. Standing atop the pedestal that supports a statue honoring chief bridge engineer Joseph Strauss, Day addressed the throng through a megaphone.
“I have no choice but to use my voice and stand up for black kids in this country to get the same opportunities and chances at success as a white kid does,” she said. “Young black kids lose parents, friends, and siblings to police brutality. They are scared, they are hurting and they are scarred.
“What is happening in society today is wrong. We know the justice system is flawed. We know racism still exists today after 400 years of oppression. And we know that this is the generation that will fix this together.”
Her father, Tiayadi Day, also spoke. “This is not an anti-police movement,” he said. “The police department has helped us and served us every single day they put their lives on the line for us. We’re not against the police department. We are against the 2, 3, maybe 5% that feel that they can victimize people and get away with it.
“If you kill someone, you’re held accountable for your actions. And if you’re a police officer and you kill someone who is unarmed and not a danger to anyone else, there is no reason why you should not be held accountable for your actions. That’s the reason we’re here. We’re here to change the laws. We’re here to change the status quo.”
Day, a graduate of San Jose State, wore a T-shirt honoring Tommie Smith, a black athlete from San Jose State who won a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics. His black power salute with John Carlos, another black Olympian from San Jose State, was a symbolic and powerful moment in black history.
“John Carlos and Tommy Smith brought a new culture and a new understanding of the Black Panther movement.” Day said. “The Black Panther movement is not an anti-white movement, it’s a power to the people movement. You don’t have the strength that you have until you come together as one.”
He raised his fist in the same salute.
“This means black power, but it also means power to the people. We’re stronger together,” he said.
Sunday’s protest was a proud moment for Day, who organized protests during the Rodney King era.
“I’m blessed to have my daughter. I didn’t teach her the struggle. I guess we just lived it.”
In the 14 years he’s lived in San Ramon, a predominately white neighborhood, Day said he’s been continuously stopped by the police.
“I’ve probably had my license ran 2,000 times. And any of my neighbors — there’s no way they’d be ran that much,” he said.
He also works with incarcerated youth in San Francisco, where most of the kids are black and Latino.
“In the three years that I’ve been there, there have been three white people,” he said. “In our area right here in San Francisco you’re going to tell me there’s no white kids committing crimes in the city? It’s not true, they are. But the punishment is different. So we’re trying to bring awareness to that flight and that plight.”
People of all races took to the bridge, carrying signs and chanting the names of so many different black men and women who have been killed by the police in recent years, including George Floyd, a Minneapolis man whose killing by a cop who knelt on his neck for nine minutes was captured on camera and sparked a wave of massive demonstrations throughout the country.
Minneapolis is Tess Fadeck’s hometown. Fadeck, who is white, said, “The onus is on us to change, we’re the ones in positions of power.”
She carried a sign for Tony McDade, a black trans man killed by the police in Tallahassee, Florida, just two days after George Floyd. Trans people suffer disproportionately from police violence, Fadeck said.
There were many families among the marchers as well, including the Sweeneys of Vallejo — Rodderick and Rosaria, and their two children, Giovanna, 16, and Anthony, 21.
“What’s going on in the world has got to stop.” Rodderick said.
Rosaria said: “We’re out here for our kids. We are here to be a part of making this change.”
Tonita Cervantes, a freelance photojournalist, said she was there for native people who are often overlooked.
“Statistically, Native Americans have a higher rate of police violence against them, a higher rate of murder by law enforcement than any other ethnic group in the country,” she said. “We have 10 times the missing and murdered indigenous women. We have 10 times the suicide rate. There’s a lot of social issues that aren’t being addressed, because we’re invisible.”
Shaheed Muhammad, 24, drove up from Fresno with his mother, Felicia Porchia.
“It could have been me, so many times. I get harassed by the police for the smallest things. And I’m tired of it. I see all these organizations, all these different races that we’ve got backing us and I appreciate every single person here,” Muhammad said.
Porchia said Muhammad had been inspired by Tiana Day’s organizing the bridge march and wants to hold a rally in Fresno.
“By her doing this, it’s motivating him to do even more,” she said.
They had already attended a protest in Los Angeles and were planning on attending one in Oakland next.
“This is wonderful. Wherever, I’ve gotta go, I’m going to go,” she said. “I have a history of union organizing. It’s like working a political campaign, that’s what this is, so I’m just teaching him and he’s taken on that passion.”
The demonstrators’ march started out heading north, pausing to kneel for nine minutes in Floyd’s memory.
They then took the pedestrian walkway under the bridge to the other side. Traffic hummed along, as passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity with the marchers. Golden Gate Bridge Patrol officers pedaled alongside them on bikes.
Eventually the march spilled into the roadway, and the highway patrol had to close the southbound lane to traffic. The lane reopened after reports that a woman in labor needed to get to the hospital. “Traffic is about to come through so please get out of the road,” an officer with a megaphone said.
The marchers peacefully cleared to the side.
Muhammed was leading them. “This was a peaceful protest. This is a peaceful protest. Let’s keep this going. Let’s keep it going, but get off the street. Because there’s an emergency, and we need to get off the street,” he said into a megaphone, Porchia at his side. He chanted” “No justice, no peace, no racist-ass police.” Others joined him.
When asked if her son was ready to put on his own march in Fresno, after successfully clearing demonstrators off the freeway, Porchia said, “Oh, yes, we got this.”
“Thank you so much, that woman was seriously having contractions,” an officer told Muhammed, holding out his hand.
Muhammed asked if the officer would take a knee in support of the march, but he declined. He said would take a bullet for Muhammed or anyone else, though, and that he condemns police brutality.
When Muhammed pointed out that he had put himself at risk to get others to comply with the highway patrols’ request, the officer replied that he too had been at risk.
“I just had to split traffic and almost take off about 300 side view mirrors,” he said.
“I appreciate what you did, brother. I just want to know if you’re really serious, will you take a kneel for us, for the people,” Muhammed said.
“I shake hands, that’s what I do,” the officer said.
“Stop, that’s enough,” Porchia interjected, protective of her son, and perhaps knowing that it was futile. She guided Muhammed away.
But it had been a successful day. The crowd dispersed peacefully, many heading to the beach or Chrissy Field to lie in the grass.
Not Porchia and Muhammed though. Their next stop was Oakland.