Letter: On Police Accountability

by / Sep. 13, 2017 9pm EST


On August 27, an article appeared in the Buffalo News titled “Buffalo cops among least likely in nation to be involved in fatal shootings.” Citizens of Buffalo—especially those who are people of color, immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ—have had a difficult time accepting the context and commentary of this piece, as they are a direct contradiction to our lived experiences. In the article, data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe understandably expressed concerns that there have been two fatal police interactions this year. The public remains dissatisfied with the lack of accountability and transparency regarding the recent deaths of Wardel Davis and Jose Hernandez-Rossy at the hands of Buffalo Police Department (BPD).

The individuals who commented in this article are far removed from the everyday interactions members of the community experience with Buffalo police. The Buffalo police uphold policies and tactics that allow bias—both implicit and explicit—and targeting of people of color and people living in poverty.

The BPD’s intense use of checkpoints, for example, has largely targeted and inconvenienced Buffalo’s East Side and communities of color. These checkpoints have rightfully drawn criticism and scrutiny from residents, community leaders, and good-government advocates who question the constitutionality of this practice. Earlier this month, a local group of advocates filed a federal lawsuit and called for the state attorney general to investigate claims of violations of citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

There is certainly cause for concern when our police department uses excessive force and biased tactics against the citizens of Buffalo. There is no space for the public to express our concerns. The pursuit of justice is met with many closed doors.

For example, one of just two Common Council Police Oversight Committee meetings scheduled for this year was cancelled this summer when the BPD and councilmembers failed to get on the same page. This was a critical missed opportunity for the community to address our concerns regarding the relationship between police and community.

To hear and uplift Buffalonians’ unheard public safety concerns, Open Buffalo’s Justice and Opportunity Coalition hosted a “People’s Oversight Meeting” on September 7 at the Delavan-Grider Community Center. Among the points of discussion were the findings of “Collaboration, Communication and Community-Building,” a 2016 report published by Partnership for the Public Good and Open Buffalo. This report offers more than 30 recommendations to create a system of “community policing”—a mindset and practice marked by good-faith partnership between the public and the police.

A few dozen community members in attendance shared personal stories, concerns, and voted on policy reform priorities. Law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) was voted as the top priority. Language access, “fix-it” tickets in lieu of arrest or fines, and open data were also at the top of the list for policy recommendations.

Now is the time for our community to address these concerns at the Common Council’s Police Oversight Committee meeting, which has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. in council chambers. Justice and Opportunity invites community to join us on September 26 as we continue the hard work of reforming Buffalo’s public safety system to best understand and serve the public.

India Walton is a Justice & Opportunity Community Organizer for Open Buffalo. For more information about Open Buffalo’s Justice & Opportunity Coalition, she can be contacted at