Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protesters are expected to show up outside First Niagara Center on Monday when Donald J. Trump holds his primary-eve rally.
Organizers of anti-Trump protests say they believe the gatherings will be peaceful and won’t be about disrupting the rally.
Victoria Ross, executive director of the WNY Peace Center, said she doesn’t expect violence in or around the rally but knows with the sheer number of people expected to attend the rally – the arena can hold 18,000 people – and all the people she expects will show up to protest against Trump – emotions will be heightened.
“I think it will be peaceful,” Ross said. “We’ll be doing our level best to make sure.”
Ben Caldwell, one of the organizers behind the Facebook group “Peaceful Protest Against Trump,” agreed.
“Despite what you may have heard, this is going to be a productive, proactive, peaceful protest,” he said.
Over the last several months, protests have erupted at Trump’s campaign events leading to tense and sometimes violent altercations between Trump supporters and protesters. In early March in Chicago, a Trump rally at the University of Illinois was abruptly canceled because of security concerns.
When Trump’s campaign announced it would hold a rally at First Niagara Center on Sunday, April 17, there was some initial talk of disrupting the rally, possibly even closing down a major road, organizers said. Then the rally was rescheduled to Monday, due to concerns that there wouldn’t be enough time after Saturday night’s Buffalo Bandits game for Secret Service to conduct a proper security sweep.
Regardless of the why it was rescheduled, protests will happen.
Caldwell had already begun organizing an anti-Trump march for Sunday before the date change was announced.
It’s still happening, he said, and the number of people who plan to attend seems to be swelling.
He originally anticipated 200 to 300 people for the 2 p.m. march, which is slated to begin at Bidwell Parkway and Elmwood Avenue. He now thinks the number may be around 1,000.
He feels the event will have a more “positive” atmosphere now.
“We can have our unity with no natural opposition,” he said. “It will be fun. We’ll be among like-minded people in the neighborhood.”
Buffalo police said at a news conference Friday that the city will allow for peaceful protest outside First Niagara Center on Monday. But they did not specifcy where.
“As those people arrive and as they set up their thing,” Lt. Jeff Rinaldo told reporters Friday, “the police department will make accommodations for them to have an area. At this point I don’t have one designated that I can tell you. Again, working with the police officers that’ll be there that day and our command officers, we’ll make sure everyone that wishes to have, you know, an area to state their claim will.”
A strong police presence is expected in downtown for the rally and several streets around the arena are slated to be closed.
Also many surface parking lots in the area normally open for events at First Niagara are expected to be closed to public parking.
The NFTA is providing extra rail service, the same schedule for Sabres games, on Monday for anyone trying to get downtown for the event, and police are aware that the trains may carry both pro and anti Trump passengers, Rinaldo said.
City officials added there are no plans to bring in portable bathrooms to the area.
Plans for protests
Last week, Victoria Ross, helped lead a nonviolence training workshop at the Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church on Masten Avenue in anticipation of large protests at the Trump event.
About 15 people showed up to learn how to de-escalate potentially volatile situations, whether it’s an encounter with a Trump supporter or police.
Sky-blue arm bands were distributed to the people who showed up for them wear to identify themselves as peacekeepers on Monday.
“We’re going to use that as an organizing tool,” Ross said. “As a reminder and as a strengthening of spirit. So we can find each other.”
She asked anyone who is coming downtown to protest peacefully to wear sky blue to signify “unity, solidarity, peace and justice.”