Police Violence in Buffalo, New York and the Ongoing Case
of an Antiwar Protestor
Last spring, April 8, 2011, I participated in a demonstration called Stop All Wars of U.S. at Home and Abroad. The unjust wars we were referring to were those going on abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan and at home on the poor, the un-insured, the workers, the unions, the taxpayer, women, people of color, indigenous communities and Nations. We saw and see that the problems we as working people face had simple solutions but were being caused or underfunded because the vast majority of our tax dollars are spent on war, prisons and hand-outs to the super rich corporations. We know, because of our low socio-economic value in society, that our voices don’t have much clout with big decision-makers and to be heard we must speak collectively in the streets. We can’t afford the big billboards on the highway or television commercials or to buy out radio stations.
This is our right and duty as citizens who believe in justice and equality. We marched through the streets from the military recruitment offices, to City Hall, the FBI office, the Federal Building all without violence, vandalism or conflict with law enforcement agents. The problem started when we arrived at the financial district in front of M&T bank. M&T bank was the recipient of 600 million in bailout funds and in return forecloses on the homes of hardworking families, reinvests in war industry and gives multi-million dollars salaries to its CEOs. War, financial crisis and foreclosure aren’t problems to these banks—they are opportunities to exploit the public more.
The demonstration was ending when the notorious NFTA (Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority) police arrived on scene. The NFTA have a long history of violent and abusive tactics with the Buffalo community. They are responsible for brutalizing a group of Critical Mass bike-riders, brutalizing one of their own bus drivers, brutalizing a 65 year old man trying to use a bathroom, and have a regular role of brutalizing the youth and public at NFTA train and bus stations. The police arrived when no people or property were either harmed or threatened. They proceeded to agitate the crowd and put an end to the free assembly on the public sidewalk. When the “most vocal protester” got off the ledge they were sent to protect, the police pursued him, plowing through the peaceful demonstration. Further escalating their tactics, one officer then drew a potentially deadly tazer in the middle of the crowd. Then they proceeded to drag me back onto the property they were sent to get me off of, clubbing and spraying me directly in the eyes with mace, and in the process agitating the crowd even further. Even though, throughout all this, no demonstrator, including myself, ever hurt anyone or damaged any property, nor even threatened to. On the contrary, while bringing light to injustice and wanton violence of the state, we as demonstrators became victimized in the same manner in which the state consistently acts wherever its interests are at stake.
I was initially charged with six violations and five misdemeanors. Three months later, the DA momentarily dropped the charges, only to re-instate the exact same charges so that the police could submit a revised report that better matched the allegations I was facing. Currently I am facing the class A misdemeanors of Resisting Arrest and Obstruction of Governmental Procedure, and a Trespassing violation. Right from the moment I was being dragged back onto bank property and fellow protestors followed me onto M&T property, filming the police, I have had amazing support. My two codefendants went through an entire year of this nonsense over petty Trespass violations only to be found not guilty. The crowd followed us back to the Jail urging for our release. At every fund raiser and every court date, the media, friends and family have been there.
This isn’t just for me, it’s because this issue transcends this minor cas, it is a fight for our right as a community to exercise free speech and assembly without the threat of political repression and violence. The system wants to single people out and frighten us into submission. When we are united there is nothing that can stand in our way. The media’s attention on this case has brought to light the procedure in which many are railroaded, assaulted by police then charged with the crime, prosecuted by lies and by police who all back each other up.
We had various pretrial dates and postponements until we began an actual trial in June 2012. My case was judged by a jury and my codefendents, the presiding judge. It was ended on the seventh day while the jury was deliberating. A mistrial was declared when a juror gave a note to the judge for an unrelated case. The DA is hell-bent on wasting more money to retry this petty case when public safety and justice don’t require it. What does he care about cost when it’s just taxpayer money being spent? Broken cars give a mechanic work and lengthy trials justify the DA’s employment. We are scheduled for a trial on October 16th this year.
What has been the most disturbing though was the political nature of the prosecution. The prosecution brought up my political activity as though it was proof of guilt. They brought into play the political activity of my family also, as an additional measure of guilt. The prosecution brought in that I was interviewed about my case by Russian Television as if showing I was a subversive spy, although the cold war ended a quarter century ago. They brought in my work with Political Prisoners, Jericho Movement, Stop the Violence Coalition, Prisoners are People Too, Anarchist Black Cross Federation, the bookstore (Burning Books) that I cofounded with Theresa Baker-Pickering, and Leslie James Pickering, former Spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), my father’s work with Move-on.org and my sister’s work against hydrofracking. They brought up the specific support I gave to Former Black Panther Party, and Black Liberation Army Political Prisoner Robert Seth Hayes. They asked if the ELF was an eco-terrorist organization (Malcolm X said, “They make the criminal look like the victim and victim look like the criminal.”) I wanted to tell them that the people involved in the ELF are defenders of life and the Earth and that the real eco-terrorists are those who profit off the Earth’s destruction like BP, National Fuel and Haliburton. They made sure to say I supported people and organizations who were prisoners of war. Yes, this system is at war with the planet and the people inhabiting it. When the government slaughters people they receive medals of Honor, high salaries and Nobel Peace Prizes. When people stand up to defend themselves and their community they are labeled extremists. Hold on, am I on trial for how I exercise my first amendment rights, how I think, or for standing on a wall? What kills me is that the DA, assuredly with the help of higher agencies, spent our money on painting me as a violent terrorist, when that is precisely what they are. The protest was completely peaceful and remained that way until the thugs with guns came and caused all these problems. They are the violent, illegitimate criminals at home and abroad. Their every move is cold and calculated to amass the largest empire the earth has ever seen, yet I’m on trial for being on a ledge.
The U.S. uses false humanitarianism and concern for freedom and human rights to bomb, invade and colonize countries throughout the world. From Yugoslavia, to Libya, to Nicaragua, to Iraq it seems like clockwork to justify the ever expanding empire of America to spread western style capitalist democracy.
One way they are able to accomplish this is through the perception of America being the leader of the free world. People are many times drawn to America not for freedom but for economic opportunity. Though being an imperialistic empire that exploits and steals the resources of the rest of the world, it has brought material abundance relatively speaking compared to the rest of the world.
This has brought many in this country to become comfortable and stagnant believing you couldn’t find a better country. This comfort zone abundance plus a very biased western media, extreme political repression on any viable movement, and the largest prison population in history, offer a view of America as land of the free. You don’t know you are in chains if you don’t move. The majority of Americans don’t vote let alone participate or engage in the democratic process otherwise. George Jackson said, “The highest form of fascism is here in America” point being: you don’t need to bring out gestapo police if people are already enslaved in the mind. Harriet Tubman once said during slavery in the south when it was literal bondage, “I could have freed a thousand more slaves if they would have known they were slaves.” In places like Syria it is now admitted that the CIA is funding, training and arming rebel fighters for armed resistance to the government. The U.S. couldnt even handle the peaceful Occupy movement without deploying violence to destroy every single encampment in a coordinated nationwide effort. The U.S. government assassinates U.S. citizens and opens fire on organizations when they feel threatened. Look at Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Hampton, Kent State, Jackson State, railroad strikes, mining strikes, and every nation indigenous to this land.
All this money is spent on a security state to repress the public for organizations like the FBI, CIA, HS, ICE, DEA, Local, County, State police agencies, NSA and at the same time handing billions of dollars out to large corporations systematically defunding education, healthcare, housing, sustainable energy, and this is called democracy? The same democracy spread by the barrel of a gun and tip of a cruise missile! What I am saying is that the U.S. has no right, nor legitimacy to play boss around the world and dictate by violence what is right for other countries.
Take my case. However minor, it is a poignant example. While peacefully excercising first-amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly, which America touts as its basis for democracy we were unjustifiably brutalized and criminalized. A-year-and-a-half later no one was held accountable for the one-sided violence the demonstrators received, and I am still on trial.
We are living in one the most violent states that the world has ever seen, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said is “the largest purveyor of violence on Earth.” What is happening to me is part of a bigger struggle, and symptomatic of an overall anti-life system that will stop at nothing to profit!
We demand the charges be dropped! Stop all U.S. wars at home and abroad! Stop criminalizing dissent! Stop spending our money on wars, prisons, bailouts, tax-breaks for the rich, draconian police, domestic repression, and prosecuting us for exercising our free speech!
The retrial is scheduled for October 16 unless dismissed.
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