It became a potentially explosive scene Wednesday night as more than 50 residents gathered on a Lovejoy District street, some voices rising in anger and disagreement, and hands punching the air for emphasis.
But nobody had to call the police.
They already were there. As a matter of fact, police were the early target of verbal attacks during an outdoor meeting of the Brinkman Street Block Club.
The meeting was called to end what residents described as years of inattention from Buffalo police and City Hall to problems with drugs and gangs, among other things, on Brinkman Avenue, Sumner Place and Keystone Street. The goal, block club president Patricia Gauthier said, is "to make our neighborhood a safer place in which to live and bring up our children."
What apparently was a blanket invitation to police and community leaders yielded city and county law enforcement officers, Common Council Member Richard A. Fontana of the Lovejoy District and Council President James W. Pitts.
After introductions, the session was opened to questions, and the first asked of the guests was, more or less: What are you going to do to help us?
Residents' concerns included drugs, gangs, gunfire, prostitution, derelict properties and traffic-related problems.
But they didn't necessarily like the answers they received.
They questioned the priority their calls to 911 received and the quickness with which criminals returned to the streets after arrests. Neither is under their control, police responded: Calls are assigned priorities by 911 operators, and judges are responsible for deciding whether suspected criminals stay in jail.
Officers urged residents to report criminal activity, but the residents voiced frustration about the responses they receive and skepticism about whether conditions will improve.
The two sides also clashed about the existence of a criminal gang that police call the Brinkman Boys. Officers from the Broadway Station, the precinct that serves the area, say emphatically that such a gang exists; residents say just as emphatically that it doesn't.
"We all know who they are; nobody's fooling anybody here," said Chris Dates, the Broadway Station's community police officer.
Residents demanded that police handle the crime problem in their neighborhood without automatically assuming that their families are part of it. Some young men suggested that crimes are committed by people coming over from other neighborhoods -- another notion that the street police dismissed.
"You can't have it both ways," Capt. Lawrence M. Ramunno, chief of patrol, told residents. "You can't expect us to clean up your neighborhoods, and then, in the meantime, some of the players . . . may be your kids."
Almost from the outset, the question-and-answer period was a shouting match, with Fontana trying to keep the peace. After targeting police, residents then turned on one another.
There were allegations that the block club is exclusionary and holds "secret meetings" and implications that some residents are intimidated by the presence of young black men, assuming they are involved in criminal activity.
After about 45 minutes, it became clear that there were no easy solutions. Pitts stepped in as the shouting escalated and called for the meeting to end.
"You're not going to get anything accomplished with folks yelling . . . and screaming at each other," Pitts said.
Residents were urged to present specific complaints and to attend the block club's monthly meetings.