On Saturday, The Daily Beast documented the recent history of use of force in the Buffalo Police Department, which is reeling from controversy as two officers face assault charges for shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground.
“As shocking as this all may be to outsiders, the shoving of demonstrator Martin Gugino and the defiant response of officers to an effort to discipline two of their own is indicative of the state of police affairs in Buffalo,” wrote Jim Heaney. “Has been for a long time, not that you have to go back too far to find other episodes of brutality that have been captured on video.”
For example, Heaney wrote, “Last month, a white Buffalo cop was caught on camera repeatedly punching a black suspect in the face after he’d been wrestled to the ground. The cop, and his partner, remain on the job, not so much as reassigned to desk duty.”
Even worse, however, “No fewer than four men of color have died as the result of encounters with Buffalo police in the past three years.”
“First there was Wardel ‘Meech’ Davis, stopped in February 2017 by police officers who later refused to cooperate with investigators,” wrote Heaney. “In May of that year, Jose Hernandez-Rossy was shot as he reportedly fled police. Rafael ‘Pito’ Rivera was shot as he ran from police in September 2018. Marcus Neal was shot by police after they cornered him on a rooftop in December 2018.”
“Then there was the settlement earlier this year in which the city paid Wilson Morales $4.5 million after police shot and paralyzed him in 2012,” wrote Heaney. “Both cops involved in the shooting have since been promoted.”
One of the big issues, Heaney wrote, is a lack of accountability. “New York’s notorious 50-a law pretty much prohibits the disclosure of police disciplinary records, and the department’s Internal Affairs unit takes it from there. Investigative Post, in a February 2017 story, reported that Internal Affairs cleared officers of wrongdoing in 94 percent of the cases it investigated during a nearly three-year period.” Furthermore, Mayor Byron Brown, the city council, the human rights commission, and the independent citizen advisory committee virtually never use their oversight powers over police.
“Little wonder that a survey several years ago of inner-city residents found close to half of them weren’t comfortable calling the police in an emergency,” wrote Heaney.
“The events of the past week have the feel of sea-change,” wrote Heaney. “Brown has lost the support of his police department and drawn the ire of a new generation of activists drawn out by the protests. Police reform, and the larger issue of racial discrimination, has emerged from the shadows and forced one of the nation’s poorest, most segregated cities to face its demons. It’s been a long time coming.”