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New York state: 57 police resign to support officers fired for shoving 75-year-old

Entire Buffalo police department emergency response team steps down in solidarity but will still be paid

Video shows police in New York state shoving 75-year-old to ground

More than 50 police officers in Buffalo have resigned in support of two colleagues who were suspended after video showed them shoving a 75-year-old peace activist to the ground who then cracked his head and was hospitalized with severe injuries.

The resigning 57 officers comprised the entire Buffalo police department (BDP) emergency response team. They will still be employed by BDP and be paid, but they will no longer work on the emergency response team.

The shock development, which triggered a wave of social media outrage, is likely to heighten tensions in the city in New York state, which like many other places has seen widespread anti-police-brutality protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.

The protests have been marred by widespread incidents of police violence against demonstrators and the media that have triggered condemnation by civil rights groups in the US and overseas. Many of them have been filmed and spread via social media.

The brutal attack on Martin Gugino by the Buffalo police seemed to strike a particular chord.

Video from the public radio station WBFO shows Gugino approaching a line of helmeted officers holding batons as they clear demonstrators from Niagara Square around the time of an 8pm curfew. Two officers push Gugino backward, and he hits his head on the pavement. Blood spills as officers walk past. One officer leans down to check on the injured man before he is urged along by another officer.

Prosecutors are now investigating and two officers have been suspended.

“Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat?” asked the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, at his daily briefing on Friday, saying he had spoken to Gugino. “It’s just fundamentally offensive and frightening. How did we get to this place?”

But the local police union boss defended his officers. “Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” said John Evans, PBA president, according to WGRZ.

Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, said contingency plans were in place “ensure public safety”. Additional state troopers will be in the city through the weekend to assist Buffalo police, according to a state police spokesman. Brown said they were working with other agencies.

Gugino was hospitalized and was “alert and oriented”, according to a Friday morning tweet by Mark Poloncarz, the Erie county executive.

Poloncarz at a briefing later in the day wished Gugino a “speedy recovery” and said the incident “created a black mark, a stain on the city of Buffalo”.

Gugino is a retiree who lives by himself in the area, say friends who describe him as a veteran peace activist driven by his faith and a desire for social justice. He is involved with the Western New York Peace Center and Latin American Solidarity Committee, said Vicki Ross, the center’s executive director.

“I can assure you, Martin is a peaceable person,” Ross said. “There is no way that he was doing anything to accost or hurt. He made a judgment to stay out after the curfew because he feels that our civil liberties are so in danger, which they most certainly are.”

His Twitter timeline includes tweets and retweets supportive of progressive causes and critical of police. One tweet from Wednesday read: “The cops should not have clubs. And should not be in riot gear. The National Guard should arrest the police.”
Ross said Gugino has been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Martin was standing there looking at these young cops in the eye,” Mark Colville of the Amistad Catholic Worker said of his longtime friend. “It almost looked like he was reaching out to them, trying to shake their hand or say, ‘What’s going on? Why are you doing this?’”

Buffalo police initially said in a statement that a person “was injured when he tripped & fell”, WIVB-TV reported, but later opened an investigation as condemnation spread.

“The casual cruelty demonstrated by Buffalo police officers tonight is gut-wrenching and unacceptable,” said John Curr, the Buffalo chapter director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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