Between Buffalo's black elected officials and Buffalo's cops, it's hard to figure which is the bigger liability. Recently, a black female county legislator was involved in a verbal altercation with a police officer over an incident with a neighbor. A few black leaders of note came before the press to speak out against what they called the disrespectful treatment endured by Crystal Peoples.
My question to them is: Where were you all these years when ordinary working-class blacks were getting abused by members of the Buffalo Police Department? Don't just come forward when well-known politicians are abused. Speak out for the cause of the little people also. Or simply put, remember us on non-Election Day.
The sudden concern of Common Council Members Byron Brown and Barbara Miller-Williams about police mistreatment of average citizens in the wake of the unjust arrest of a fellow politico reminds me of the outcry almost five years ago of another Byron we generally seldom hear from in the black community in these situations, Byron Lockwood.
Back in the fall of '94, a black officer was shot by a white city detective during an arrest. Lockwood, who is president of another silent group, the Afro-American Police Association of Buffalo, served notice to cops, "Your irresponsible and illegal behavior will not be tolerated."
Since then Lockwood, Brown, Miller-Williams and Peoples have tolerated much police mistreatment, abuse and harassment toward the very people who put them in office. Channel 18 even broadcast a videotaped beating of community activist Darnell Jackson last spring. Still, no outcry was heard from the most influential black voices in the inner city. Politicians and church leaders were mum.
And why judge them? Great rewards come to blacks who master when and when not to keep their mouths shut, a miracle in itself in many cases. Endorsements from nifty mainstream political groups, high ratings from the media. Who are we bloodied and bruised lowly citizens to stand in your way?
While reporting for The Challenger newspaper, I've interviewed many victims of various ages and positions who said they have been victimized by police. They range from a 12-year-old girl to a middle-aged woman; from a zone leader to a church leader. It doesn't matter, because the erring cops just see black. Many officers live in the suburbs, and drive to work with preconceived ideas about blacks. Black officers who are implicated by citizens in alleged brutality cases are seen as trying to fit in at any cost.
Those police who mistreat blacks can't get away with it without the silence of black officials, no matter how many activists bring it to light. Call it silence of the lambs. One thing is for sure. When it comes to these lambs, silence isn't always golden.
Our black elected officials were, after all, chosen by the community. They wear nice suits, drive nice cars and draw good salaries -- all for speaking softly and carrying a very small stick. Don't expect to hear from media darlings Byron, Barbara or that black guy in City Hall with the bow tie. Black leaders in Buffalo, since they agree on little else, generally must agree on one thing -- police brutality is the prime issue, racial profiling is secondary. Buffalo needs user-friendly black leaders.
CHRIS STEVENSON is a Buffalo journalist.
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