The Buffalo 57 (Update)

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.

42 thoughts on “The Buffalo 57 (Update)

  1. PML

    According to Buffalo news this morning, 2 have spoken up and the reason they all resigned was the union told them they would not provide attorney’s for them if they were sued.

    This is according to the news. They also have a lot of information on the protester too.

  2. Chris Hundt

    I think I’m allowed to posts these links. Here is an article where reporters *did* ask the cops:

    and here is another article with further background:

    Basically, Buffalo has in the past refused to indemnify a cop who used excessive force, and the union has said they will not provide a civil defense for anyone on ERT or SWAT who is accused of violating protestors’ rights, and the cops did not want to assume the risk of paying for it themselves.

    1. SHG Post author

      Well no, but since these articles provide the information sought, you get a pass. And thanks for the help. [Same appreciation to others who posted comments with the same link, but Chris beat you to it and there’s no reason to post it again.]

      Fascinating that not a single comment in WaPo, neither the union prez nor the pols, have anything to do with what motivated the cops to resign, if this is accurate.

  3. Raccoon Strait

    From the linked articles:

    “It’s a three-day training which covers skills including baton-holding positions, mass-arrest procedures, and riot-control formations, according to the website. “

    I don’t see anything about deescalation there. Could it be that some if not many police departments (and/or the Antiprotester in Chief) don’t comprehend the concept of deescalation before confrontation, then wonder why so many people are pissed off at them?

    As you say, rather than projecting my feelings, we should ask them. Has anybody asked them? Could we believe what a politician says publicly?

    1. SHG Post author

      It might be a bit much to expect the article to describe all training, or training they receive on top of specialized training for the squad. But is that the case? Beats me.

  4. Skink

    From the local story:

    7 Eyewitness News was not able to reach PBA president John Evans to confirm this information or get a response to several officers shooting down his assertions, but we did obtain an email sent to PBA members by Evans.

    It states, in part:
    “In light of this, in order to maintain the sound financial structure of the PBA it will be my opinion the PBA NOT to pay for any ERT or SWAT members legal defense related to these protests going forward. This Admin in conjunction with DA John Flynn and or JP Kennedy could put a serious dent in the PBA’s funds.”

    That’s a highly unusual position for a union to take. Union legal representation, such that it’s a thing,* is for instances where the agency can’t or won’t provide a lawyer. The “can’t” is for disciplinary actions before civil service boards or whatever due process is provided. The agency can’t provide a lawyer where it is prosecuting.

    The “won’t” is rarer than hen’s teeth. It occurs where the agency decides federal civil rights claims are akin to intentional torts, so they deny indemnity and defense. A very upset employee finds me and I call the agency’s general counsel, asking if he wants to know what the employee denied I&D is likely to say in depo. Things work out. But this is not that–it’s the union.

    In the last week, it seems every agency, government and politician issued some kind of “solidarity” statement. Is this how this union does the same, or is it to push the envelope? Instead of issuing the usual explanation, saying the cop was right and facing a difficult situation, did the union take a course knowing the result would be cops wouldn’t work the unit and thereby show society the likely result of pushing too far?

    *They get what they get at 25% of my usual governmental rate.

    1. SHG Post author

      Are unions suddenly running scared and throwing their members under the bus? If so, this might be an excellent time to rid society of the blight of police unions, not to mention all public sector unions.

      1. Skink

        No. With governments reacting to the moment by announcing they will not side with cops, the message is they will not defend all cops, no matter the circumstances. That leaves all cops in a sort of due process void that can only be filled by the union because I’m expensivish. The union realizes it ain’t up to the task, so it shows the likely result of the void.

        The governments are walking themselves right into the “won’t” I previously mentioned. They need to be careful, as some bright lawyer might call, explaining the cop will likely testify he was trained to always baton the head first.

        1. Chris Hundt

          In fact, as the second link I posted alluded to, Buffalo has “won’t”-ed at least twice before. So I guess those cops’ lawyers weren’t bright enough, or else that technique doesn’t work on Buffalo.

          1. Howl

            In my defense, it seemed appropriate, the union giving up on it’s members.
            Seemed like a good idea at the time.
            I rest my case and throw myself upon the mercy of the Admiral.

    1. SHG Post author

      Did it occur to you that these were the kindest, gentlest 57, and the next 57 will not be quite as tolerant?

      1. Chris Hundt

        This is one of my problems with “defund the police.” Are the good cops the ones who are going to stay as the job gets shittier and shittier?

        1. SHG Post author

          Not that there’s any actual notion of what that means or what would come in its place, but I suspect the vague notion is that 1000 police officers will be replaced by 900 people providing a variety of useful services that will help people, and maybe 100 cops left to do cop things, all of which is fine until you need 101 cops, or 500 cops, etc.

          Of course, that’s assuming everything works as believed. When the crazy guy kills the kindly mental health professional, there will be issues.

          1. Chris Hundt

            Sure, that’s the theory, but in practice I see people cheering LA’s cutting the LADP budget, and demanding a deeper cut, without any hint of what responsibilities the LAPD is now going to be relieved of.

            1. SHG Post author

              It’s really not that much of a cut in LA. More of a no increase budget, but that won’t turn any frown upside down.

            2. Guitardave

              Guess no one really watched that masterstroke of a video comment i made this morning. Too esoteric? …(ya know sometimes it’s not just the song title or the words)
              1. 57 swat cops will end up being meter-maids, but they, and us, will survive.
              2. The results of ‘de-fund the police’ are @ minute 1:36 to 2:00.
              The shrug he gives to the store owner says it all…
              sometimes i wonder why i bother.

            3. Guitardave

              Thanks, Admiral. I know tummy rubs are discouraged, but…thanks.

              Weird fact: Back in the nineties, when the Cake version got some airplay, i liked the twist of a guy singing it, and did a similar rendition. That tune seemed to have no middle ground…it was either, “I didn’t expect that from you…I LOVE that song!” (and a hug from a cutie[remember hugs?]) , or ” I can’t believe you played that stupid song, ugh!”. Strange.

            4. Eliot J Clingman

              What do you say to a drummer in a three-piece suit?
              “Will the defendant please rise?”

          2. John Barleycorn

            Amazon is exponentially expanding its server depot/data centers security detail and there are not enough jobs for those on the professorship track esteemed one.

            Don’t you care!

          3. Casual Lurker

            “When the crazy guy kills the kindly mental health professional, there will be issues.”

            And don’t think some haven’t tried (and damned near succeeded!)

            1. SHG Post author

              Ever wonder whether the people who empathize with the mentally ill realize that sometimes they’re fucking crazy?

        1. SHG Post author

          In 1979, Masami Teraoka did a print, “31 Flavors Invading Japan.” I have it hanging on a wall.

  5. JohnBarleycorn

    So, indictments are becoming a thing apparently.

    If you need a few extra reams of 32lb paper let me know… and if I were you, I would purchase a back up electric pencil sharpener.

    Threading the realism needle is going to be fun, right?

  6. JF

    I wonder how many of the 57 were cheering their colleagues after the arraignment. Maybe the union was reflecting their actual opinion and said the quiet part loud? Definitely warrants further (journalistic) investigation. [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    1. Chris Hundt

      Am I mistaken or is Assault 2 very difficult to justify from the video? If the charge is not supported then I imagine that even officers who disagree with the shove are likely outraged by that.

      1. SHG Post author

        It’s unlikely any assault will hold, given that it requires intent to cause injury. More likely a Reckless Endangerment 2, an A misdemeanor.

        But would cops applaud their “brothers” regardless? Probably.

        1. Chris Hundt

          Thanks. In my mind, people are enraged mainly because of events surrounding the actual shove, like the failure to give aid and the exonerative “tripped” statement, and the city is happy to help focus the anger on these two “bad apples.” Even though one of them tried to give aid and was stopped, by the same cop (supervisor? yellow shield) who pushed him into the protestor in the first place but does not appear to be facing even any discipline.

          I would expect the other police officers to be enraged under such circumstances. I think it is more or less true that the cops did what was expected of them. As humans they are not simply instruments of their superiors, so they face their own individual culpability, but it is galling to see those at the top of the hierarchy try to focus all the blame at the bottom when this was surely not a “rogue” cop or unit.

          Of course you’re probably right that the cops would support each other anyway, but in this particular case I have a hard time blaming them!

  7. Erik H

    This is an interesting datapoint in the “will potential civil liability change police behavior?” debate.

    I don’t think it’s conclusive though: would the cops refuse to push someone generally (good but seems unlikely) or would they simply refuse the extra risk of openly being assigned to the people-pushing squad?

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