(image above by Jamil Crews during protest in Buffalo NY summer 2020)
Advocates and community leaders with Free the People WNY, Buffalo Police Advisory Board, VOICE Buffalo, Citizen Action of Western New York, Black Love Resists in the Rust (BLRR), Partnership for the Public Good, Vocal-NY, Prisoners Are People Too, Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Slow Roll, Fair Fines and Fees Coalition held a press conference to speak out about Buffalo’s police reform recommendations that does not do justice to the lives lost to police violence and those who experienced police brutality. The press conference can be viewed here.
The commission’s proposed solutions fall far short of achieving the community’s goals for greater police transparency, reducing the budget and scope of police departments, and investing those resources in alternative community infrastructure that keeps us safe. Advocates also point to a lack of public hearings on the recommendations and said residents have not had enough time to weigh in. Today is the last day for Buffalo residents to comment on the commission’s recommendations on police reform. The Buffalo police department has until the end of the month to finalize its reform plan and submit it to the state.
“The commission’s report claims that it is reimagining. We, Voice Buffalo, the interfaith community-based organization that stands boldly for racial justice and equity say that the time for reimagining is long past,” said Whitney Walker, executive director, VOICE Buffalo. “It is instead time to be architects of a new Buffalo and to collectively, shamelessly, and unapologetically denounce white supremacy in all of its forms within our policing systems. Accountability should not be a respecter of persons particularly when it comes to police accountability. We need external, objective, and accountable oversight of our police, so when an officer has been investigated 22 times by Internal Affairs for alleged misconduct they are suspended without pay and terminated rather than considered for promotion by the Police Benevolent Association as was the case for Officer Delong. Therefore, Voice Buffalo demands that the Buffalo Police Advisory Board’s model be codified into law giving them the power that they deserve to objectively review misconduct and hold officers accountable.”
“This City Of Buffalo Commission on Police Reform and Social Reconstruction has been a part of a political game to make sure the City gets funding from the Cuomo Administration,” said Chrisitan Parra, community organizer, Citizen Action Western New York. “This process has been confusing and has created tension within the community, meanwhile none of the demands that residents have been most vocal about are being met. These demands are not about politics they are OUR lives. We continue to see law enforcement taking the lives of our people while the community has proposed viable solutions. How many more people have to go through the brutality of this system before we see real change?”
“Slow Roll Buffalo’s mission is connecting communities by bike. Fulfilling this all-inclusive mission was made more difficult by the city-imposed police presence on our rides in 2015 as we were growing quickly; while we share their primary concern for safety and have maintained a respectful relationship with BPD, the lack of trust in Buffalo police especially among communities of color led to a distrust of Slow Roll by association, said Seamus Gallivan, member of Slow Roll. “This latest resolution on police reform once again falls far short of fixing this lack of trust in Buffalo police. Slow Roll stands in solidarity with the coalition of community organizations demanding better for Buffalo.”
“Low-level drug possession is the leading charge year after year in Buffalo and surrounding communities. It’s done nothing for anyone’s health or public safety and that’s the type of policy we need to get serious about changing,” said James Hill, a directly impacted community leader with VOCAL – NY.
“It is unconscionable to think that a report that is supposed to be a ‘reimagining’ of policing in the City of Buffalo is so short on imagination and doesn’t include most of the recommendations that this community offered and NONE of the things that this community can (or should) embrace,” said Jerome Wright, Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (HALT).
“The city’s reforms don’t go far enough, don’t include vital details, and completely disregard the need for independent police oversight, mental health diversion,” said Mike Powell, member of the Buffalo Police Advisory Board.
“With the uprisings and reckonings that took place in 2020, we deserve and demand more change from our City and police. We want real divestment from the BPD budget and reinvestment in community programs, no use of bola wraps, tasers, and other weapons on community members, and real policy change,” said Caitlin Crowell, City of Buffalo resident and member of Showing Up For Racial Justice Buffalo. “We are a group that works to bring white people into the movement for racial justice and we are watching.”
“I firmly believe that the solutions to problems come from those who are closest to the problem and for the past few years we have heard overwhelming calls for independent police oversight. The commission’s recommendations that have been put forward call for a re-imagining of the citizens’ rights and community relations governmental body,” said De’Jon Hall, member of Police Ballot Initiative. “Unfortunately, the process does not coincide with the sort of calls we’ve seen from the community and it does not take into account that the reimagining has already been done. The Police Advisory Board put forward in June 2020 a new independent oversight body and we’re going to push to get it on the ballot this November. We are asking folks to visit voicebuffalo.org/ballot-initiative and sign the petition.”
“It is alarming that this agenda does not lead with a decrease in the Buffalo police budget, which is nearly one-third of the entire Buffalo City budget. We need a reallocation of those funds into community programs, housing, and infrastructure among many many other things,” said Phylicia Brown, Black Love Resists in the Rust. “An increase in community interaction with police officers only means more harm in communities. Increased community interaction only means that there will be more arrests and more brutalization. It means that more families will be separated, more children will be without parents and more Black and Brown people will enter the carceral system. We do not need more police in our community. We need to cut to the Buffalo police budget. Cops that have brutalized and killed people in our community need to be terminated now in their pensions withheld never to be rehired. We need police accountability, we need police out of school and we need police not to respond to cases of mental health or any mental health calls.”
“These recommendations simply do not go far enough to protect communities most harmed by the systems in place at a time when many are looking for transformational change, said Tanvier Peart, Partnership for the Public Good. “Reforms that keep police in schools and take incremental steps to create law enforcement accountability barely move the needle. The City of Buffalo has the opportunity to be a leader in addressing police violence and the justice system or lack thereof. Our partners highlight ways to put the community first in our 2021 Community Agenda that include removing police from the frontline response to mental health crises, implementing a new police oversight model, permanently ending the practice of stationing off-duty police officers in Buffalo Public Schools, and investing in just streets not enforcement.”
“Cariol’s Law needs a registry and it needs to be national so we can have accountability. It’s common sense,” said Cariol Horne, advocate for Cariol’s Law.
Miles Gresham, Sam White, and John Elmore, co-chairs of the Minority Bar Association of Western New York Criminal Justice Reform Task Force, said, “The recommendations in the Buffalo Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Report fall far short of the substantive change needed to establish equal justice under the law in Buffalo. The extreme brevity of the report, and the apparent lack of input from the community and the public, also raise serious questions about the process through which the report was generated. The Buffalo Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Report do call for some things that community members, activists, and policy professionals have called for, such as the implementation of LEAD, a commitment to include a permanent residency requirement for officers in bargaining negotiations with the PBA, and the expansion of public input in those negotiations. However, some of its recommendations, like one calling for the city to ‘reimagine police presence in the district’s school buildings,’ are ridiculously out of step with what the community has demanded. Just last month, the Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools made a commitment to stop the practice of employing off-duty police officers in Buffalo Public Schools, after a push to do so from various pastors, community leaders, and activists. The collaborative’s recommendation would move us backwards into an environment that criminalizes black and brown children, and should absolutely not be implemented.
“It is also disturbing that members of the community were not invited to participate in the collaborative’s process, despite clear language in Governor Cuomo’s executive order that required the City to consult with, among other stakeholders members of the community, with an emphasis in areas with high numbers of police and community interactions. We know that the Collaborative had at least one lengthy presentation from law enforcement, yet not a single presentation from a victim of police brutality- the Minority Bar Association was not invited to participate, nor was the City’s own Police Advisory Board. Even the Common Council, who had membership in the collective, was, according to the statements of one Council Member at this week’s meeting of the Legislative Committee, kept in the dark about the process of recommendations. And, once the recommendations were released, the public was only given three days to offer comments. This is a far cry from the inclusive consultation mandated by the executive order that gave rise to the collective.
“Finally, the collective’s report is notable for a regrettable lack of substance in general. While other reform and reinvention task forces across the state, such as Syracuse and Erie County, generated reports that were hundreds of pages long, Buffalo’s is only four pages, and suggests that they completely lacked the attention to detail that is vital for substantive and effective reform.”