While Buffalo mayor Byron Brown delivered his annual State of the City Address inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on Friday afternoon, protesters outside spoke against him and the city's police department as they rallied in memory of a young man who recently died after being arrested by officers.
A handful of activists attempted to disrupt the mayor's speech while he was still in the first few minutes of the address and acknowledging other elected officials. Those individuals were quickly escorted from the building. Outside, though, many more activists were carrying signs and protesting not far from the front entrance of the convention center.
Seven of those protesters locked arms and sat in the intersection of Court and Franklin Streets, briefly halting auto traffic. They were arrested by Buffalo Police and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.
"When you start blocking sidewalks and intersections, especially traffic intersections, blocking both pedestrian and vehicle intersections is where you crossed the line and broke the law," said Buffalo Police Lieutenant Jeff Rinaldo.
Two of the activists were additionally charged with resisting arrest. All seven people arrested were scheduled to be arraigned on Saturday morning.
While police did not release the names of those arrested, reports surfaced Friday afternoon that one of those taken into custody was former Buffalo Police officer Cariol Horne, who was dismissed from the force in 2008 after a disciplinary hearing stemming from an incident during which she jumped on the back of a fellow officer who was making an arrest. Horne had claimed at the time she thought the officer was choking the person being arrested.
Activists who were present but not arrested later explained to WBFO they are upset with the Brown administration over its handling of the recent death of Wardel Davis. The 20-year-old man died in the early morning hours of February 8, shortly after he was taken into police custody. Davis reportedly struggled with his arresting officers after attempting to flee them. Police investigators, later that day, explained that Davis suffered a medical emergency during the arrest. An autopsy showed no signs of trauma. Toxicology results were still awaited.
Lt. Rinaldo told reporters that because the State Attorney General's Office was continuing its own probe, which in New York State is legally required in cases involving deaths of individuals in police custody, he was unable to comment on the Davis matter.
Activists say abuse and racism are a rampant problem within some police ranks. They also criticize Mayor Brown for what they say is his silence in the Davis case.
The mayor, when asked for comment, said protesters outside were misinformed about that supposed silence. He told reporters he had spoken to Davis' grandmother, uncle and family pastor shortly after the young man's death.
Activists said that's not good enough.
"He should be in the forefront. He should be in the public," said Cai Blue, an activist with the group Just Resisting. "This is not the first time we've had an incident with the Buffalo Police Department.
"He is always as quiet as he can be. He needs to use his voice."
Mayor Brown's speech inside the convention center, before hundreds of guests, celebrated recent accomplishments while announcing new initiatives including job training programs and economic development projects. The latter included mention of an upcoming $50 million public-private partnership to create mixed-income spaces in the city's Jefferson-Utica neighborhood.
Mayor Brown says economic development still to come within the city will be "inclusive" and "smart growth."
"As more and more mixed-use, mixed-income developments are being built in neighborhoods citywide, we remain focused on neighborhood preservation and preventing residents from being displaced by our impressive growth and development."
Mayor Brown also announced that for the twelfth year, the City of Buffalo will hold the line on taxes. He also declared that the city's credit rating is the best in its history.
Among the highlights of his public safety portion of the speech was the announcement that Buffalo Police will have two new substations opened and running later this year. One will be set up at the Broadway Market while the other will open at Canalside.
Mayor Brown offered a hint about his possible future political plans when he wrapped up his speech referring to his three terms in office, "and counting." During a news media gathering after his address, he was asked directly if he had just made his subtle confirmation that he'll seek re-election.
"Coming very soon," he replied. "I think people can see by how excited I am about what's going on in this city, the proposals that we've made for the future of this city, the progress that has already taken place in this city. I think they can anticipate what my announcement will be in the very near future."