Ten straight days of nationwide protests have brought more attention than ever to an issue many Buffalo residents described Thursday as a longtime problem in Western New York: police brutality against people of color.
About two hours before WBFO captured video that showed Buffalo police officers pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground, where he lies motionless while bleeding from the head, hundreds of peaceful protestors gathered on the steps of City Hall and in Niagara Square.
During a period of minimal police presence, many protestors marched around the square, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” while others sat on the steps of City Hall listening to music or finding friends in the crowd.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Jenni, a 25-year-old Black woman, of the demonstrations that have continued in Buffalo since last Saturday. “It’s long overdue and I’m just so happy to see everybody together. They [political leaders and local media] want us to think that we’re doing something crazy, but we’re not. We’re peacefully protesting and it’s good to see everybody get together for the right cause because I think everybody is sick of the same shit.”
Asked whether she was pleased with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s announcement Thursday afternoon banning the use of chokeholds by city police officers, Jenni said the move demands more action.
“I want them to reopen every case of every Black man and everybody else who has been in a chokehold,” she said. “I want to see charges pressed again them [officers who used chokeholds]. I want to see charges pressed all around the world. I don’t want to just hear no talking. I want to see action. Everybody just keeps saying they’re going to this, they’re going to do that, blah blah blah. We did enough talking. It’s time for some action.”
Two Black men also in the crowd—Sin, 30, and a 24-year-old who declined to give his name because he has family members who are police officers—said they’re protesting because they both routinely experience racism in Buffalo and racial profiling by police.
“I’m out here to protest police brutality. I’m out here to protest systemic racism,” said Sin. “I’m out here to show support for my brothers and my sisters who are constantly under the boot of this state, of this nation, and of the silence of our white counterparts. We have a lot of friends, a lot of allies out there, but it’s not enough.”
“People say they ‘don’t see color.’ No, I want them to see and celebrate color,” Sin continued. “I want to have the same privilege held by every native of this country, where I can wake up in the morning and feel that as long as I do my best, I can go home safe.”
The 24-year-old, who identifies as both Black and Hispanic, said he’s been racially profiled by the Buffalo Police Department (BPD) four times. “I’ve been pulled out of my car, and I’ve never been convicted of a crime,” he said. “So, being out here [protesting] and seeing all of this happening and stuff, I feel like I hold a very strong responsibility—not just for myself but for my people.”
He also said he’s always been proud to be American but is finding that increasingly difficult under the Trump administration.
“I know the freedoms that come with me, even through all the segregation that I have [encountered] as a Black man,” he said. “What we’re doing right now, we would not be able to do in China, we would not be able to do in other countries, so I do understand that, but I’m very very ashamed to even call myself an American [right now] … I can no longer find that pride.”
Another protestor, a multiracial 32-year-old woman named Hannah, said she watched the Common Council’s special meeting on the City budget yesterday, during which thousands of Buffalo residents—many newly enraged and engaged by the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and resulting mass protests –had hoped to see significant cuts made to BPD funding.
“I was there [virtually] commenting, a lot of people were commenting,” Hannah said, “and the entire time we were saying ‘You’re not listening to us,’ you know?”
The Common Council voted six to three in favor of the Mayor’s proposed budget, which kept BPD funds largely intact.
More protests and vigils to mourn the life of Floyd and Western New Yorkers who have been killed by police are planned for Friday and Saturday in Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
Correction: June 6, 2020
An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified a protestor named Hannah as white. She is multiracial.