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Protesters resist call to arm police with high-powered assault rifles

About 25 protesters walked in groups of three Thursday morning from Niagara Square to Buffalo Police Headquarters on Franklin Street carrying signs saying “No More Fire Power” and “Love, Respect and Understanding for All.”

Their mission was to meet with John T. Evans, the first vice president of the Police Benevolent Association, who posted a blog last Friday on the union website calling attention to PBA requests for high-powered assault rifles and tasers for patrol officers.

Evans also referred to the recent killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., and the need for citizens to “comply with our orders and you won’t get yourself killed.”

Bob LaVallee, a pastor in the Church of the Larger Fellowship, described the blog’s tone as incendiary and divisive.

“We came out here out of solidarity and as allies to the “Black Lives Matter” movement,” he said. “We really wanted [the police union] to take down the horrible blog post that encourages fear and alienation,” said LaVallee, who also was speaking on behalf of the Buffalo chapter of “Showing Up for Racial Justice.”

By walking in smaller groups, the protesters were less likely to draw attention. They wanted a peaceful gathering.

“An action like this is a very tense situation,” LaValle said. “We wanted to be non-violent and we did not want to dehumanize the police. The police are not our enemies.”

For 10 to 15 minutes, Evans listened to the protesters’ concerns, and then asked them to leave. LaVallee did most of the talking while others in his group videotaped the event or took photos and posted them on social media.

“This is America. That’s their form of protest, and this is a public lobby,” said Evans, whose PBA office is off the main lobby at headquarters.

But Evans drew the line at the group’s request to remove his post. “I believe in everything I posted. That is how I feel,” he said.

Evans told The Buffalo News after the brief protest that he remains frustrated that city police are not equipped with tasers.

“They are not a panacea,” he said. “They always don’t work, but not having them forces you to engage physically with people. I just don’t understand it.”

Evans initially requested the AR-15s some time ago, he said. He called the assault rifle (also used in the watch towers of Attica Correctional Facility) an “accurate means to disable a threat.”

“I was stunned when I came here and found no one had a rifle, so they came in with shotguns. A few guys carry them, but they’re only good up to 40 yards.

“We’re defenseless in long-range threats,” Evans said.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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