Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said there are significant changes coming to the Buffalo Police Department, although he would not elaborate during a large gathering in MLK Park Sunday.
The long struggle for racial equality has been rooted in the church, particularly in the black church of preachers like Martin Luther King Jr., for whom the park was re-named. Sunday's gathering of religious leaders, organized labor and politicians in front of the park casino had more than a few iterations of the church services many of the speakers had clearly held -- live or virtually -- a few hours before.
Speakers from Baptists to Muslims preached religion, faith, against racism and for religious unity in difficult times. They were there for a prayer service, a clerical protest.
Terry Melvin, president of the National Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, delivered a rousing speech, referring to the Declaration of Independence.
"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's time for us to get our pursuit of happiness. It's time to stand up for what is just and what is right," Melvin said. "I hate to disagree with people, but when the brother came up here and said we want power, hell no, we're going to take power. Power is never given. Power has to be exacted."
Melvin is also secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO. The event drew a large and multicultural crowd to the vast wading pool of the park. Buffalo Urban League President and CEO Brenda McDuffie preached the need for faith and works.
"I see a crowd of witnesses, people of all walks of life, in our community and our nation, coming together, hurt, bruised, outraged," McDuffie said, "but we are turning it into work. We are saying, enough is enough."
Muslim Public Affairs Council President Khalid Qazi compared two viruses: COVID-19 and racial inequality.
"We have spent trillions in the last few months to address this virus, but the virus, the second one that is really killing our nation, that has infected us for centuries is the virus of racism," Qazi said."
Mayor Byron Brown said he has met with an array of people and groups seeking fundamental changes in the way the Police Department operates and is managed. Recommendations will go to the Common Council.
The most visible group is probably Free The People WNY, which wants changes from summary firings of officers with bad records of violence and abuse to protection for officers who turn in other officers for excessive force. That is for former BPD officer Cariol Horne, who has maintained she was fired for stopping a veteran officer from attacking an arrestee.
"Very shortly, we will come together as a community to announce some of those things that can be done immediately, in the short term, some things that will happen more in the mid-term and some things that are more long-term," Brown said, "but you will hear some immediate recommendations for change in the coming days."
Many proposals are difficult, like summary firings of police with abuse records, since until today those records are sealed and there are contractual provisions in the contract with the Police Benevolent Association covering officer discipline.
Brown said the city police department is filled with good officers in a bad situation.
"Vast majority of our officers are working hard every single day," he said. "We now have officers that have been working around the clock, people that have been working to exhaustion and, in some cases, officers working without breaks, working without meals. So we are all under pressure. This is a difficult time for all of us."
He has been encouraging police leadership in tough times.
"Just letting them know that they are supported, that we know that our officers are trying to do the right thing," Brown said, "and when officers do the right thing, they deserve our support and when officers do things that are not proper, those things must be dealt with."