East Palo Alto residents demand action after deadly shooting near playground sends children running

"You guys have to do something to make this better and safe for our babies. This is unacceptable."

Amanda del Castillo Image
Friday, May 20, 2022
East Palo Alto residents demand action after deadly shooting
Residents of East Palo Alto are frustrated, angry and worried after a deadly shooting killed Ralph Fields and sent children running for their lives.

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Residents of East Palo Alto are frustrated, angry and worried after a nightmare played out at Jack Farrell Park which was filled with children and adults on Tuesday.

Police say 33 bullets went flying in the shootout, which killed one man and injured three others.

On Thursday, city leaders called a special community meeting. The virtual gathering was really the first time neighbors have been able to publicly voice their concerns and call for action.

"Y'all gotta do better. Do better," one resident demanded.

Another pointed out, "It takes things getting to this point before you guys do something..."

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"You guys have to do something to make this better and safe for our babies," a third resident said. "This is unacceptable."

During the public comment portion of the night, there was outrage, raw emotion, and a call for real action.

"Maybe a police presence to be there walking around- maybe even like interacting with the residents from the park and just checking in," one resident suggested.

Another said, "I think it's not very realistic to not offer education and resources to the community and expect the community to act a certain way."

"Step up," one woman demanded of the city's police force. "Y'all want the community to step up, y'all need to too! Y'all need to lead, right? Y'all supposed to be the leaders? Lead! So we can follow you guys, so we can know what to do."

Many are still reeling over the disturbing video which showed a young girl recording Tuesday afternoon, as she played tag with her cousins at Jack Farrell Park. One of several gunmen fired just 10 to 15-feet from her. The camera captured the sound of gunshots, the girl running away, and then her pleas for help.

"That sound of the little girl running and crying is going to stay with me for a long time," EPA councilman Antonio Lopez said.

A mother who was at the park with her kids on Tuesday spoke out and described, "It was a scary mess. There were so many children screaming and crying and running. I didn't know where my child was! So scared, and eventually I found him hiding behind a tree. Thankfully, some lady took him and a bunch of others to hide."

Police say 33 bullets were fired between two groups. The shooting death marks the first homicide of the year for the city.

Pastor Paul Bains told the community, "It's the first murder of this year and we pray it's the only one."

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East Palo Alto has dealt successfully with gun violence in the past after logging 43 homicides in 1992.

In recent years, the predominantly working-class community has had to deal with COVID infecting one out of every six residents, many of them essential workers at high risk. Unemployment and high housing costs also has left many struggling.

"The status quo is not going to - it's not going to save us. It's going to rip us apart," Lopez told ABC7 News before the meeting. "People are going to leave and so we have to really be able to be bold and not thinking ideology, not thinking us versus them, not thinking who's in this party, who's not."

Residents complained to ABC7 News that police are not doing enough to address suspicious activity at Jack Farrell Park where Tuesday's shooting happened.

"It's very important that we don't make assumptions on our own and go out and target people, and assume that they're doing these activities," Interim Police Chief Jeff Liu said at a Wednesday press conference. "If we're not getting reports, we're not going to go out there and accuse them of doing anything that they may or may not be doing."

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Councilmember Lopez said the police department has about five officer vacancies and has difficulty recruiting from neighboring cities with larger budgets. The city is currently working on its budget. Lopez said it will have to re-set priorities to boost public safety.

"Whether it's, you know, officers- whether it's creative community watch groups, whether it's some sort of alternative where we have a social justice component- but the fact is that what we're doing isn't sustainable," Lopez told ABC7 News.

East Palo Alto's leadership is a mix of seasoned elected officials and a new generation. Lopez is 27 and a life-long resident.

"There are lives at stake- our children, our nieces or nephews. They deserve a better world, and they deserve a better city," he added.

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