Redwood City is among jurisdictions nationwide facing calls to reform its public safety model in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. On June 2, a crowd of about 2,000 filled Courthouse Square for a demonstration organized by several Redwood City young people. The two-hour rally and march was largely peaceful and only one arrest was made.
Warned by law enforcement about the demonstration, many businesses had hurriedly hired contractors to board up their windows, but the kind of violence and looting that has happened elsewhere did not occur. One of the organizers, 21-year-old Tyson Fraley, who is white and lives in the Friendly Acres neighborhood, thinks people on the east side of town are often unjustly “criminalized” and their views ignored, while neighborhoods west of El Camino Real don’t get the same level of policing. The demonstration’s success, he said, was in uniting residents across the divide. “They showed up and they made it clear that they’re ready to support it.”
On June 11, city leaders held a town hall meeting via Zoom on local policing policies, which included Mayor Diane Howard and Police Chief Dan Mulholland. The meeting drew hundreds of participants, a number of them calling to transfer funds from the police budget to other community services. After the town hall was criticized as overly scripted, the city pledged a number of new steps by endorsing the Obama Foundation Mayor’s Pledge to review and reform its policing policies, and by launching a three-month public outreach effort to determine the future of public safety in the city.
There has been division, but also unity. Business owners reeling from months of reduced income because of the coronavirus boarded up prior to the protest, in some cases at a cost of several thousand dollars. The owners of August Barbershop at 704 Winslow St. opted, instead, to set up a station outside their shop serving water and pizza.
“We decided not to board up our business because we wanted to show the community that we’re here, we stand with you,” said co-owner Marissa Ramirez.
Boarding up the Fox Theatre, the Little Fox and the Fox Forum cost about $7,000, according to General Manager Ernie Schmidt. “I can replace my windows,” he said, “ … but if somebody breaks my windows and enters the Fox Theater and damages all the beautiful history in there, I can’t replace that.”
However, he allowed local freelance artist Jose Castro to paint messages and images on the plywood in front of the theater, and others joined in. Two weeks afterward, Schmidt put out a call on NextDoor.com for volunteers to help business owners remove the plywood. About 60 people showed up June 14, Castro among them.
Schmidt started a GoFundMe campaign to reimburse him for the cost of his paints. The Fox Theatre boards will be preserved for future display. Tyrone Jones II of Redwood City brought young sons Tyrone III and Kingston to help remove the plywood. “(It’s for) a couple of reasons,” he said. “One is my personal accountability to my city. And the second reason is so that my boys understand the importance of taking care of the community.” Rich Digrazzi, who is a pilot, joined the work party after seeing the notice on NextDoor because “maybe I could give to the community a little bit. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything.” Brett Weber, a commercial real estate executive, started a GoFundMe account to assist business owners with the cost of boarding up. By mid-June, it had collected about $13,000. For information, go to the redwood-city-small-business-relief-fund on the site.