It is clear that we need something different. That we need to figure out a way to engage residents into voting, caring about the moves of their electeds, holding those in office and in power accountable, that we need to mobilize beyond marches/ vigils/ demonstrations and rallies.
It’s clear that we are beyond frustrated. That we can’t imagine a reality other than the one we’re in. That a different reality has not been presented/ shown to those that need to see it most.
And it is clear that we are, and have been, out organized. Or in denial of what the pulse is that is moving certain people into action and keeping most of us at home.
It is clear we are getting close.
For 10 months our partners in resistance, SURJ Buffalo, have incredibly skilled up, what I imagine (because I don’t have their numbers) is more than 50 WNY residents to work to fire an elected official. An experiment in the type of impact a large group of un-paid canvassers and phone bankers coupled with public demonstrations could have on a county-wide sheriff’s race without having to endorse a candidate.
This fight is not a new one. Because of public demonstrations and organizing by the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition (BARC) and BLACK from Rochester to lift up India Cummings, who died after sustaining injuries from being at the Holding Center in February of 2016, the conditions at the Holding Center, and the officers who work there, are once again being discussed publicly.
Prisoners are People Too (PRP2) have been advocating for better conditions and treatment of inmates at the Holding Center for decades.
Efforts to #FireHoward focused on the now 25 deaths (the latest was a “cardiac arrest” of a 53 year old man at the Alden Correctional Facility two days before the election) that have occurred since Howard has been in office- 2005. In addition to sexual harassment claims against Howard and a lawsuit by the Department of Justice over “deathly conditions” at the Holding Center, how could we not want something completely different?
It is clear we live in county where it is acceptable for the sheriff to be at a rally organized by white supremacists standing in front of a confederate flag in uniform in the middle of downtown Buffalo.
It is clear we live in city in deep partnership with the police. Where there have been 2 deaths caused by police this year and there is no real race for mayor, instead we have an incumbent who urges residents to have “coffee with a cop” weeks before election day. Where a memorial honoring a man killed by the police in May is taken down by neighbors and the council representative of that district calls those same officers heroes. Where a Facebook threat to officers gets you stalked by four officers and over a year sitting in the Holding Center awaiting sentencing. And organizations hesitate to sign on to a lawsuit against the BPD because of what it means for their relationship with Brown.Where an officer is lifted up as a hero after dying from equipment failure and residents have no choice but to “remember Officer Lehner” for almost four (4!) weeks, and counting.
To be clear: It’s tragic that someone is dead after missing in the Niagara river for five days. Condolences to his family and friends and those who loved him. But he did not die “serving our community”. He died because of equipment failure. He was not saving a life, “fighting a crime”, preventing bodily injury to another human being- it was an unfortunate accident. Shutting down several streets surrounding the Key Bank Center and the entire length of Delaware Avenue, from Niagara Square to Forrest Lawn Cemetery, for most of the afternoon on October 25th was extravagant, and I imagine costly. He was honored at a Bills game, a puppy was named after him, blue lights shone at City Hall and the Home Depot gave away hundreds of blue lightbulbs so that residents can display their feelings publicly.
And at the same time we have had stark inaction over two men the police killed this year. There have been no elected officials demanding answers, no local investigation into the acts of the officers involved. Our District Attorney was all too willing to hand the investigation over to the Attorney General’s Office with the quickness. And still, none of those in power have been calling for a speedy investigation or for the AG to release their results so that the families may have answers. The mayor made a five minute phone call to Grandma Davis and that was it.
What arrangements have been made for the families of Jose Hernandez- Rossy and Wardel “Meech” Davis? Who was allowed to attend their funerals; to pay their respects free from the prying eyes of the media and the problematic herding usually done by the Peace Keepers wherever they are dispatched, free from patrol cars parked outside the church? And who did the burden of those services fall on? Which elected officials attended the funerals of these two men killed by Strike Force officers? Have they even been mentioned on their mouths since Meech’s death in February and Jose’s death in May?
What was heard, what was felt, what was demonstrated is that there is a hierarchy of whose lives matter. Whose death is deserving of mourning.
We live in a place and time where our neighbors elect a Sheriff for four more years who has had 25 deaths in his facilities since 2005; where our neighbors elect a mayor who ran on “tough on crime” policing and instituted a Strike Force unit in 2006; and where almost 28% of the City’s $500 Million budget is promised to the police department- a percentage that increases every year.
We hear you loud and clear.
There was hope on election day. Hope that voters would elect a new Sheriff, a new county clerk and comptroller. Hope and spirit that my body forgot the feeling of. Hope I fear may be squashed by our defeats.
It is clear our local Democratic party is failing us- that it is flailing; floundering in this moment, in this movement. It is clear they are aligned with the status quo and are not putting in any real effort to change anything dramatically for who it matters most for. It is clear our media wants us to believe Democrats won on Tuesday, as meek as those wins are.
I hope that we don’t lose sight of our impact amidst our losses- of what was built: the political homes, of the shifts, ideologies, the sheer numbers of individuals who are equipped to fight in this moment.
It is my hope that we take this momentum; proof that organizing works, proof that it’s working and as inspiration for what the building of Us is capable of. What are we creating for ourselves? What are we sustaining for ourselves. Let’s not fall back into searching for answers from structures currently in establishment but lean forward into building what we know we need and now know is attainable.