I can’t recall who said it, but the resignation of 57 Buffalo police officers following the suspension without pay of two cops who pushed a 75-year-old protester, Martin Gugino, backward to the ground, was an opportunity. If they found what was done to not be cause for suspension, then it was an opportunity to replace them with 57 good cops.
It wasn’t just the push. It was the utter lack of reason for it. It was the failure to render aid upon seeing the harm caused, the head whipping against the pavement, the blood spilling from his ear. It was about the lie told afterward, that he “tripped,” revealed as such by the video. And it was one of too many videos to ignore. The two cops, unnamed, were suspended and that was too much for the other members of their unit to take.
On Friday, the police department’s entire emergency response team resigned from the squad in protest of their colleagues’ suspension, according to several local news reports. The team was formed in 2016 to respond to civic unrest.
The 57 didn’t resign from the force. They’re still cops, and their pensions are still accruing. Rather they resigned from the “team.” But in light of the video, why?
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference Friday that he was “exceptionally disappointed” by the resignations.
“It indicates to me that they did not see anything wrong with the actions last night, which I think each of us in this room found something wrong with, as well as our governor, the mayor and millions of people across the country — and, for that matter, the world,” he said.
What it “indicates” to a pol at a presser doesn’t explain why the 57 made the decision.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” Buffalo Police Benevolent Association president John Evans told WGRZ.
That’s what one would expect a PBA president to say,* but why were they disgusted? Why were the disgusted by the suspension? Were they not more disgusted by the treatment of Gugino? Were they troubled by the harm done Gugino at all?
There were 57 cops to ask. No one did.
Many of you will have explanations at the ready, because you lack the humility to recognize that you’re not them, you don’t know what they know, you don’t think as they think. You will project your feelings toward them onto them and believe, as hard as you can, that you know. You don’t know. Anything you believe is about you, not them. What about them? This wasn’t a couple of the suspended cops’ close friends or partners, but the entire team, all 57 members.
Are they all that callous, maybe even venal, that they cared nothing about what happened to Gugino? Do they deeply regret what happened, but see it through the eyes of a team trained with the understanding that heads will break given their assignment, to quell civil unrest?
Have they become desensitized to their own actions, such that they don’t care enough about the public they purportedly serve? Or do they care too much about themselves, about their own sense of “unfairness” that two cops were suspended for doing nothing more than a little push that, unfortunately, ended badly for a 75-year-old men whose balance might have been a little too shaky? Is that their fault? Was it the two suspended cops’ fault that Gugino fell for a push that shouldn’t have caused him to go down hard?
If “little” mistakes like this are enough to end two cops’ careers, are any of them willing to do the job where they, too, may make mistakes and see their careers summarily end? Is the rage against the police so great that they feel victimized by the public’s, by their politicians’, by their own chief’s, failure to treat them, in their view, “fairly”?
These are hard questions, but revealing as to what is going through the minds of human beings on the other side of the shield. Certainly, they aren’t all evil, but then, what are they? What is it that those of us who aren’t cops, who aren’t on the team, aren’t getting? The problem here is that we don’t know because long articles quoting myriad officials and activists provide no insight as to what these 57 cops are thinking, why they resigned in the face of this horrific video.
Did the cops refuse to speak? Did the reporters fail to ask? Did the media decide that it would be wrong to give cops the platform to explain? We don’t know.
Update: Local coverage has done what WaPo failed to do: Provide actual information.
“I don’t understand why the union said it’s a thing of solidarity. I think it sends the wrong message that ‘we’re backing our own’ and that’s not the case,” said one officer with whom we spoke.
“We quit because our union said [they] aren’t legally backing us anymore. So why would we stand on a line for the City with no legal backing if something [were to] happen? Has nothing to do with us supporting,” said another.
While the national media harps on politicians’ outrage and a union president’s routine hype, the cops who resigned, if this is an accurate reflection of the motivation of the 57, is a bit more pragmatic. They’re not willing to take the risk.
*The “simply executing orders” language is, obviously, the Nuremberg defense, but since it wasn’t said by any officer involved in the shoving or any other member of the squad, it’s attributable only to the PBA president, not the cops involved.