A tumultuous week on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo concluded with a peaceful march Friday night in which protesters were at times at odds on whether to focus on economic racism related to a high-profile incident at a bar, or continue the police reform effort started earlier this summer.
The protest started at 5 p.m. with a march of a couple hundred people to MT Pockets, the Hertel Avenue bar that was the site of a racially charged verbal confrontation between protesters and bar patrons on Tuesday. The bar’s owner, Phil Alagna, has agreed to temporarily shut down the establishment amid an investigation by the city of Buffalo and the New York State Liquor Authority.
Standing in front of a boarded-up MT Pockets, march leaders like Stevo Johnson called for all Hertel businesses to denounce racism and support Black patrons and Black-owned businesses.
“As African Americans, we give our money to every sector of this city, and guess what? None of it comes back to our community,” Johnson told the crowd. “We do business with you, but you don’t do business with us. We’ve come to change the narrative.”
Another speaker outside MT Pockets was Derek Middlebrooks. He’s the son of Cariol Horne, a former Buffalo Police Department officer who says she was fired in 2007 after trying to stop a fellow officer from using a chokehold.
“This is not a F-the police rally. This is about getting our agenda across and promoting peace and unity in our city,” said Middlebrooks before march leaders then called for an end to the protest.
However, a large number of protesters then made their way west down Hertel toward Buffalo police’s D District station, with some occasionally using expletives about police.
One of the protesters who marched toward the police station, India Walton, explained the divide between the seemingly two separate protests.
“You have a group who is more concerned about boycotting businesses because they're racist, and then you have another group who's saying, ‘No, let's keep the focus on police brutality,’” she said. ‘My opinion is somewhere down the middle of that because the whole damn system is racist. The problem we have with police is not individual actors. It is a system that is upheld on the principles of racism and a devaluation of Black lives. So both things are related.”
A crowd of about 100 surrounded the D District station to listen to several speakers. One of them was Myles Carter, who was tackled and arrested by police while giving a TV news interview during a June protest. The charges have since been dropped.
On Friday, Carter named 16 Buffalo police officers he feels should be fired. The officers include Robert McCabe, one of two suspended officers seen in a viral WBFO video pushing elderly protester Martin Gugino to the ground in June, and Richard Hy, an off-duty officer seen on video fighting a bizarrely behaving Black man on Thursday.
Carter said while he was disturbed by the MT Pockets incident, he’s focused on defunding and reforming the police.
“MT Pockets is more of a distraction because the more time we spend down there, the more air they get,” he said. “Our issue is police brutality. and Officer McCabe and Officer Hy, and they belong to D District at this building.”
Prior to the protest, there were worries about whether the night would turn violent or unruly. Several Hertel businesses had boarded up their windows and local pastors had called for peace.
However, the protests remained peaceful. At one point a few protesters confronted a counter-protester wearing a President Trump shirt and waving a thin blue line flag at the corner of Hertel and Delaware avenues, but the conversation remained civil.
Walton, who was standing nearby, called the discussion “beautiful.”
“I think that perhaps this gentleman didn't know that he was going to be confronted with people who had factual information and the courage and patience to engage them in meaningful dialogue,” she said. “And I think that more conversations like this needs to happen.”
Asked about the anxieties some had heading into the night, Carter said making people uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing.
“I mean, I think it’s a good thing people are a little scared because then they start to understand the pain that we're feeling,” he said. “I don't think that anybody out here came with any ill intention toward anything. But obviously, if you're afraid, there's a reason you feel afraid. It's because you know that atrocities are committed in this city.”