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Buffalo Police Suspended for Shoving Elderly Protester to the Ground

Photo: @MikeDesmondWBFO/NPR/Twitter

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Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, have been suspended without pay after footage emerged of them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground while clearing a protest over George Floyd’s death in Niagara Square on Thursday. The video shows the man lying motionless on the ground and bleeding from the ear. Mayor Byron Brown said he was in “stable but serious” condition late on Thursday night and is expected to recover.

Video filmed by local radio station WBFO shows the man, identified as Martin Gugino by the group People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo, stopping to talk to police in riot gear as they begin to clear Niagara Square for the 8 p.m. curfew. As an officer yells “push him back,” one officer extends his arm to shove Gugino, while another pushes a baton into his chest.

Gugino falls back and his head hits the pavement off-camera. The camera moves, showing him lying on the ground with blood leaking out of his right ear. One officer starts to bend down to check on Gugino, and another puts a hand on his back, signaling that he should keep going. Several other officers walk by without stopping to examine Gugino as bystanders yell “he’s bleeding out of his ear!”

Buffalo police initially released a statement saying that a person “was injured when he tripped & fell,” though it’s clear from the video that isn’t what happened.

On Friday morning, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted an update on Gugino’s health, saying he remains in “serious but stable” condition but is “alert and oriented.”

After the video went viral on social media, Mayor Brown released a statement saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the footage. Buffalo police commissioner Byron Lockwood suspended two officers, who the department has declined to name, and launched an internal affairs investigation.

Governor Cuomo, who claimed on Thursday that he hadn’t seen any footage of police using excessive force on protesters, tweeted overnight that the Buffalo incident was “utterly disgraceful.”

New York State attorney general Letitia James said her office is aware of the video.

Harper S.E. Bishop, the deputy director of People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo, told the Washington Post that Gugino is a longtime member of the group and community organizer.

“Martin shows up for his people, our community, to dismantle systems of oppression,” Bishop said. “That’s what he was doing tonight at City Hall. He shouldn’t have been met with police violence for showing up and demanding accountability for the ongoing brutality and murder of Black lives.”

Later Friday, the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team, a special squad that is deployed to manage mass demonstrations and riots, resigned over the suspension of the two officers, according the Investigative Post. “Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” explained John Evans, the president of the BPD union, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.

The officers have not resigned from the police force, just the special unit, which was formed in 2016 amid the nationwide protests over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

This post has been updated to include the news of the Emergency Response Team’s resignation.

Buffalo Police Suspended for Shoving Protester to the Ground