BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “No black person would have done what he did last night in fear of what happens to them because we all know he could have died,” declared Antonio Wells, Buffalo demonstrator.
Antonio Wells says he watched as long-time activist Martin Gugino was pushed to the ground by Buffalo police following a peaceful protest in Niagara Square Thursday.
Wells was recording on his phone in front of City Hall Thursday night. Wells was one of the few protesters who stayed after a peaceful protest and initially defied the 8 p.m. curfew and police orders to leave.
“He got up off the steps, walked up to them and said 'no — I’m not going to move' and that's when the police said 'push him, push him' and then they pushed him to the ground,” recalled Wells.
“So you're saying you actually heard the police say push him - push him?” asked Buckley. “I did hear that — yes,” replied Wells.
There are a lot of questions surrounding why Gugino approached officers.
Watching a video, recorded by WBFO reporter Mike Desmond, you can see Gugino move his right hand up to the officer.
But wells doesn't believe Gugino had any intention of violence.
“He had a helmet in his hands and his phone. He wasn't reaching for anything. He was just standing there,” explained Wells.
“I know one thing — is that Martin is a very non-violent person,” stated Vickie Ross, executive director, Western New York Peace Center.
Ross says she has known Gugino for years saying he is a long-time member of their organization and has been an outspoken voice on both local and world-wide issues.
Gugino's blog page says he is an Amherst resident. He says he's been arrested at protests four times, but never convicted.
“Martin is a peaceful — very peaceable person,” Ross reflected.
Gugino is also a long-time member of PUSH Buffalo. PUSH issued a statement saying in part they were shocked to hear about his serious injuries and called Gugino a quote, "tireless fighter against injustice".
"We are shocked to hear about and witness the serious injuries suffered by a protester at yesterday’s peaceful demonstration against police violence in downtown Buffalo. The protester, long-time PUSH Buffalo member Martin Gugino, has been a tireless fighter against injustice of all types for many years in our city both with PUSH and other grassroots organizations. He has joined us in the struggle for a just transition from the corporate controlled, undemocratic, and militarized systems of oppression that drive racial and economic injustice in our communities," stated PUSH.
Ross says she's pleased the Buffalo Police Commissioner immediately suspended the officers involved. But when we asked Ross if she thinks the officers should be fired, she took a deep pause before answering.
“I want to talk to Martin, I want to talk to Martin,” repeated Ross.
Wells described what he witness as “traumatizing”.
“I want to cry. Thinking about it last night, I went home and I was sitting on my bed and I’m like — wow,” Wells replied.
Wells said three to four officers try to grab him, but he remembers running away before being detained for breaking the curfew.
“I just remember I had to get out of there,” Wells said.
Both Wells and Ross, two activists from different generations both described the police reaction as military-like, saying that’s what causes escalations during peaceful protesting.
“You don’t need 40 to 50 cops with guns, batons, riot shields — all this — they’re not even cops any more — they’re military at that point," described Wells.
“If you put people in a military formation and then they’re following orders, upper brain shuts down and they’re doing their military formation,” Ross explained.
Wells said he and other younger demonstrators initially thought Gugino was an outsider sent to infiltrate the peaceful demonstration in Niagara Square Thursday.
But after learning Gugino is a devoted activist, he said he is thankful for Gugino’s commitment to fighting for his beliefs.
“I want to thank him and it really means a lot to me personally,” Wells said. “He stood up for us — he stood up to the police, right in their face and now the world knows what it looks like. I certainly wouldn’t have done that because I would have been so scared at getting hit with one of those batons.”
Wells said he has not been question by police regarding the incident.
Gugino is being treated at ECMC for his injury. He is reported to be in serious condition, but was “alert and oriented”.
The following statemment was issued by an attorney on behalf of Gugino, Kelly V. Zarcone, Esq., Lipman and Zarcone.
"Mr. Gugino has been a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate, and overall fan of the US Constitution for many years. At this time, Mr. Gugino is in serious but stable condition. He is alert and oriented. Mr. Gugino requests privacy for himself and his family as he recovers. He appreciates all of the well wishes he has received and requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful."