People did something very different in Niagara Square Tuesday night—they put away their cell phones and talked to each other. The idea was to work on solving problems through conversations after a recent spate of national violence.
"You can do whatever you want in the square that's legal. But, at this hour, let's talk to one another," said Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen, inviting people to just turn around and talk to the person next to them in the #WNYHealsTogether memorial service.
The rally for peace did not include speeches or choirs or sign-waving. Instead, it was based on simply talking.
"As a preacher, I insist on two-way dialogue on Sunday morning. But this is a great idea, a great idea,"said Rev. Kinzer Pointer. "I think that what happens is we've gotten into this age of technology where we don't have conversations with other human beings, face to face, and, so it's becoming a lost art,"
West Side activist Casimiro Rodriguez says violence has to be discussed.
"It hits all of us. When violence hits a nation, it hits the city. It hits everyone. It hits the feelings. It hits the families," he said. "And that's why we're here. Because, we feel bad for the families that lost a loved one and we're here in support of the day, of the evening."
Among those in attendance were Cheektowaga police leaders and officers and Buffalo Police and Metro transit cops.
"At least it starts fostering the discussion," he said. "When people start considering maybe gun legislation, we're hoping that it leads to that. There are a lot of very influential people out here and influential people are able to change the minds of individuals that who are in power to make such decisions," said Pastor James Giles, coordinator of Buffalo Peacemakers and president/CEO of Back to Basics Outreach Ministry.
The crowd included at least one state senator and one assemblymember, Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty, U.S. Attorney William Hochul and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Brown says people need to work together.
"We all come from some place else. We are a nation of immigrants, so meeting people that we don't know, meeting people that don't look like us, I think, helps to strengthen the bonds of community, helps to strengthen our nation," he said. "And we are mourning together. We are healing together and we are communicating together here in Buffalo tonight and it's a good thing."
Lana Benatovich says conversation is all good. She is the Western New York president of the National Federation for Just Communities.
"When we talk to each other, we look at each other - and, we're trying to build trust and comfort and then friendship and then allies," she said. "And if we don't talk, we don't get to know each other. So this opportunity, for people to talk to people that they've never met and possibly been afraid of or resentful of, is the perfect way to step forward in this community."
Set up on the McKinley Monument were large photographs of the five Dallas police officers killed last week by a gunman, as well as the two black men killed by police officers, with their names read to the crowd at the close of the event, followed by the ringing of a bell for each officer.