In a moment of national reckoning over structural racism and police brutality against people of color, Buffalo residents are sharing personal stories of encountering police violence and discrimination.
Sabrina Walker is a 53-year-old member of the Buffalo Peacemakers, a community group that helps prevent violence and mentor local youth. Walker is Black, and she said she experiences racism on a daily basis in Buffalo.
“The other day I went to the chiropractor across from University Plaza—University Station, the bus station—and I had set all my purse and my bags and stuff down, and I was at the windows checking in,” Walker said Saturday.
“Well, an older white lady walked in and she sat down by my bags. Her purse was on the side by my bags. I wanted to give her respect, you know, and move my things. As I went to move my things she clutched her purse, and I’m like, ‘Ma’am I’m not even gonna take anything from you. I’m not trying to steal anything from you.’ So, it [racism] is there.”
Walker has also had her own brush with alleged police brutality. A few years ago, she said she was beaten by an off-duty police officer outside a McDonald’s near the Towne Gardens apartment complex on Buffalo’s East Side.
“He, like, beat me up for no reason because I asked him for help,” Walker said, adding that she was using drugs at the time and wanted to seek treatment. “This is why today I try to give back to the community. I want to be a peacemaker because if you work on yourself on the inside first, then you have to work on the outside.”
In more than a dozen interviews with demonstrators of color since Thursday, every person had a story to share about how their lives have been impacted by racism. Many also had their own stories of excessive use of police force either against themselves, a friend or a family member.
“I’ve had a cousin, Meech is his nickname, he was killed due to him reaching for his wallet to get his ID and they [police officers] thought they was gonna get shot,” said Patience Mitchell.
Mitchell is 20 years old—the same age his cousin Wardel “Meech” Davis was when he was killed while getting arrested by two officers on Buffalo’s West Side in 2017. The death was ruled a homicide but no charges were filed. Speaking Thursday evening on the steps of City Hall, Mitchell said he’s protesting because he wants to make a statement against the system that didn’t deliver justice for Davis.
“I’m here to actually prove a point that the police system was actually built on making sure that African Americans are suppressed, and to control them, and with that being done, it’s terrible.”
Davis was remembered along with other Buffalo residents of color who have been killed by police or died in custody in recent years during a vigil at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Saturday afternoon.
Another video from in the crowd. pic.twitter.com/ah8SE3y6nq
— Kyle S. Mackie (@KyleMackieWBFO) June 6, 2020
“Don’t just sit out here and march for the people of other cities,” activist Alia Williams, who helped organize the vigil, told the crowd of several hundred attendees. “It ain’t just Minneapolis. It ain’t just Staten Island. Okay? It’s happening right here too.”
One person in the crowd listening to Williams and other speakers at the vigil was a 25-year-old poet whose performance name is “Fletcher the God.”
“I would like a Buffalo that hasn’t been a Buffalo that I’ve seen, because I’ve been slammed on my face by police for no reason,” he said. “I went to the car to get my wallet and got slammed on my face—got pictures of it and stuff. But I want to see a Buffalo where we’re loving each other, and if we’re going to be this segregated, at least [let’s] love each other properly.”
Just as the vigil was getting underway, a separate, large group of protestors marched down Fillmore Avenue chanting the name of yet another Black man, Quentin Suttles, who was beaten by police officers during a violent arrest caught on video last month. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is currently investigating that case, which is sure to be closely watched in this moment, as expressed by minister and community organizer Denise Walden Saturday.
“We pray over the so-called leadership of our city and our nation, oh God. And we say that if they will not move on behalf of your people that you move them out of the way,” Walden said. “Give us the energy. Give us what we need to stand up and say enough is enough.”
Large crowd of protestors just walked down Fillmore Ave. past Martin Luther King Park. Bystanders and I not sure where they’re headed. They’re chanting the name of Quentin Suttles, a Black man who was beaten by a BPD officer during a traffic stop in May. @WBFO pic.twitter.com/aFVcfOwKPt
— Kyle S. Mackie (@KyleMackieWBFO) June 6, 2020