New York Attorney General Letitia James is conducting public hearings on the interactions between police and the public during weeks of mass protests across the state, including in Buffalo.
Eyewitness accounts have been pouring in to the Attorney General’s office, claiming excessive force by police during protests against racial injustice, inspired by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. James has convened an investigation team of former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and New York University Law School professor Barry Friedman.
“Let me remind everyone the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees peaceful protest is a basic civil right,” said James. “That right must be protected and guarded.”
Lynch said the government should never be afraid to examine how they are serving the public because their authority comes from the public.
“How those who call on government in their hour of need are being served, are being met, and in fact whether or not government is living up to its obligations to all people,” Lynch said.
With so many New Yorkers on the witness list, the attorney general’s office had to schedule two days of hearings. One of those individuals was Steven Donaldson of Buffalo, who testified about what he saw in Niagara Square on May 30.
“They [Buffalo Police] seemed to have an issue with differentiating between protestors, and people who were actually doing anything wrong,” Donaldson said. “Whenever tear gas and pepper spray, I’m not sure which one but definitely some chemical agent was used on people out there, it was directed towards people in the crowd who were being peaceful. Not to anyone who was committing a violent act or threatening the police in any way.”
Another round of hearings is scheduled for Thursday, June 18, at 11 a.m.