BPD accused of criminalizing 'black and brown folks'

Jun 20, 2017

The protest group Just Resisting is demanding changes in the way Martin Luther King Park's casino is used. It is part of a larger fight for a smaller police force and more community input in city activities.

Organizers for the group cite the heavy police presence at the Juneteenth Festival over the weekend and use of the casino as a detention center for the weekend. The event had police officers, private security and various anti-violence agencies on patrol.

Police Department spokesperson Michael DeGeorge says he knows of no individuals detained by police during Juneteenth. Phylicia Brown said she and organizer Natasha Soto saw a young man in handcuffs taken into the casino.

"A mini-detention center during the Juneteenth Festival," said Brown. "That casino is there for the use of public community members for whatever recreational events that they want to do. That has always been the use of that casino and we do not agree with its use as a detention facility."

The building is under a major rehab, nearly $3 million worth. Brown said it is a community center and should stay that way.

"Folks go to art festival, they go to the Taste of Buffalo and they're not surrounded by police officers asking them to put their shirts on, asking them what's in their backpacks, asking them to stop gathering with their friends," Brown said. "That is increased criminalization of black and brown folks specifically. So, that's one alternative, one solution: reduce the amount of police officers at Juneteenth and other places where black and brown folks are gathering."

Brown said her group attended city budget deliberations to protest purchase of rifles for police officers and they were ignored. Soto agreed City Hall ignores community voices.

"We've been to multiple public hearings on the budget, new rifle purchases by the Common Council," Soto said. "Black folks provided testimony and decisions were made oblivious to that testimony. Additionally, the voting rate in the City of Buffalo is very small, so I would argue that elected officials are hearing from a small percentage of folks and not from the majority of residents that live in communities."

She said there has to be more community participation in decision making.

The group is demanding a series of changes in the way city government works and blames Mayor Byron Brown for many of the problems of "black and brown people."