Protests in Buffalo Friday mostly peaceful with minimal police involvement

Jun 6, 2020

A day after a viral video showed Buffalo police push an elderly man to the ground outside City Hall, several hundred protesters made their way around the city of Buffalo Friday evening while mostly avoiding any contact or confrontations with law enforcement. 

Protesters hold signs in Niagara Square Friday.
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

Protesters gathered in Niagara Square to protest police brutality for the seventh straight day before heading toward nearby Lafayette Square to hear remarks by protest leaders. A large group of those protesters, ignoring the city’s 8 p.m. curfew, then marched several miles to the Elmwood Village before ultimately heading back to Niagara Square.

At midnight, the remaining protesters sat on the steps of City Hall and said they intended to stay the night. 

 

Jake Bonar stood outside City Hall early Friday afternoon, just a few feet away from where a 75-year-old white man fell to the ground and bled from his head Thursday night after being pushed by Buffalo police. 

Bonar, who is white and lives in North Buffalo, held a sign that read “Don’t Push Me.”

 

“Just the video that went viral last night from WBFO just kind of underscored a problem that already exists in the police department here in Buffalo and across the country,” Bonar said, adding, “and I think that it's important that when we see that police brutality happened to a white body, we also remember that it happens to black and brown bodies at a far higher proportion.”

 

Bonar, 28, added that it’s even more troubling that city officials weren’t truthful about the incident. City spokesperson Mike DeGeorge initially released a statement that the elderly man, Martin Gugino, “tripped and fell.” It wasn’t until WBFO posted video that the city acknowledged two officers knocked Gugino down and suspended the officers without pay.

 

Jake Bonar stands outside Buffalo City Hall with a "Don't Push Me" sign Friday afternoon.
Credit Tom Dinki/WBFO News

“That might be the most dangerous part of all of this is the fact that the people who control the information are those who write the narrative,” Bonar said, “and we should be trusting them to spread the truth, but when it comes into conflict with their own positions of power, we're seeing more and more people not telling that truth.”

 

Another protester upset by the video, which has been viewed over 70 million times on WBFO’s Twitter page, was 24-year-old Eugene Sims.

 

“It's strange how police have to use such force when there's no realistic threat,” he said, “but you can't hold just the police accountable. You also have to hold the people who give them their orders accountable.”

 

That’s why Sims and about a dozen others stood outside Mayor Byron Brown’s house late Friday afternoon. They’re asking Brown to adopt all eight police reform recommendations in the 8Can’tWait campaign by Campaign Zero. 

 

After Brown banned chokeholds this week, Buffalo police currently do five of the eight recommendations: require de-escalation, require officers exhaust all alternatives before shooting, ban shooting at moving vehicles and have use of force continuum.

 

Eugene Sims (far left) and other protesters stand outside Mayor Byron Brown's house Friday afternoon.
Credit Tom Dinki WBFO News.

“So we're out here with some signs for the other three, like requiring warning before shooting … required duty to intervene, which requires an officer to intervene If another officer is using excessive force, and ... required comprehensive reporting, which would be reporting any time a police officer uses or threatens to use force,” Sims said.

 

Just a few hours before their protest outside Brown’s house, news broke that all 57 officers on Buffalo police’s Emergency Response Team had resigned from the team due to the suspension of the two officers in Thursday night’s video. 

 

Sims thought the officers’ decision was “selfish.”

 

“I think it'd be more helpful to see them stand on the side of the people demanding justice and accountability for these cases of police brutality,” he said.

Thursday night’s incident is partially what inspired 21-year-old Tracy Jones, who is black, to protest in Niagara Square Friday night. 

 

 

Tracy Jones speaks with WBFO Friday night at Niagara Square.
Credit Tom Dinki/WBFO News

“Look, how could I let a white man be out here protesting against brutality against my kind, and then he gets attacked, how could I not march? How could I not?” he said. 

 

Just 10 minutes before Buffalo’s 8 p.m. curfew, Jones was nervous about the night to come, but also hopeful. 

 

“There's so many people out. I have 100% confidence that we will not tolerate police brutality within the city any longer,” he said.

Given the recent events, protesters Friday night were large in number and visibly frustrated. Before the curfew went in to place, protesters marched up Church Street towards Main Street to gather on one knee.

One protestor shouted in to a megaphone, “Everybody here today is angry. And you have every right to be angry. But I am not encouraging violence against our people,” he said to a cheering crowd.

Friday night, the police were noticeably at a distance, letting protesters continue amongst themselves including here after a white protestor began to spur anger talking about “All Lives Matter”.

“And they going to hurt an old man? The only reason why that old man went viral is because he’s white. What about the sixteen year old boy that just got beat up?” the protestor shouted.

After a few more heated exchanges, which involved no violence, the crowd started to dissipate and a more direct back and forth ensued with the white protestor.

“I grew up in rural East Aurora,” the white protestor said. “You know what our joke was back then? It was you were better off black, being in East Aurora, you wouldn’t get arrested. All the white kids were being abused out there.”

An African-American protestor jumped in with this response—

“Here’s the major difference. Look at your skin and look at mine.”

“What’s wrong with your skin?” the white protestor said.

“No no. There’s nothing wrong with my skin,” the African-American protestor said. “The point is you will never, ever, EVER, know the feeling of walking down the street—we have PTSD. Every time we see a cop in our rear view mirror, you know what we want to do immediately? Pull over and get out of the car. Because we don’t know if they are on bull sh** today or if they are going to be cool. We want to get out the way. And this is not just in cars. This is walking around in the eyes of the police period. It does not matter. Walking up the street, we don’t know if we are going to be victimized or let go. But being a white man, regardless of what your track record is, they are still going to see white skin first and say, ‘He’s not that bad he’s white.’ And that’s the problem that we’re talking about.”

Not too long after, curfew rolled in to effect. Protesters moved out of Niagara Square and made their way down Niagara Street towards Elmwood Village. Once they got there, some went home, some marched down Elmwood Avenue back to City Hall.

“Leaders, call out where you are going,” one man shouted.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

When protesters started heading back towards City Hall, it was well past the curfew, after 9 p.m. Police still had not intervened, but was trailing far behind.

The trip to city hall was a peaceful one, with several chants started along the way.

"Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These racist cops have got to go!"

"Say his name! George Floyd!"

"Whose city? Our city!"

A moment of silence was then held on the steps of City Hall. Protesters with their hands and cell phones in the air. No police intervention.

"Cell phones up guys," one of the leaders shouted. "Rest in peace to everybody who died in this struggle."

And shortly after, most protesters’ final walk was to outside the Erie County Holding Center.

Protesters chanted "This is what democracy looks like!" the entire way.

Most left after a quick trip back to City Hall. A few remained. They ordered pizza, which they offered to both media and police, and later stated they planned to stay overnight.

In the end, there was no violence on the steps of City Hall Friday night. There was no tense faceoff between protesters and police at any point at Niagara Square. There was a group of peaceful protesters expressing their concerns—and eventually ordering pizzas.