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Buffalo rally protests unequal treatment of blacks

Racism. Police brutality. Poverty. Failing schools.

A diverse crowd seeking solutions to a range of societal problems faced by blacks and other minority groups held a lively rally under bright blue skies Sunday in Buffalo’s Kensington-Bailey neighborhood.

The rally, organized by the Buffalo Anti Racism Coalition, came two weeks after Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, and two days after prosecutors charged six police officers in Gray’s death. But the latest death of a young black man following an encounter with police was just one theme of the afternoon rally that drew about 100 people.

“Buffalo hasn’t had literal murder by police. What we have instead is slow murder of the schools for inner-city children, who are predominately poor and of color. Economic disenfranchisement, which is another form of murder. Poverty, which is another form of murder that disproportionately affects people of color and the poor,” Lou DeJesus, a coalition member and event organizers, said in an interview.

The protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, police brutality has got to go” as passing motorists honked their approval. One participant drew chalk outlines of bodies on the sidewalk and wrote next to each the name of a black victim of violence.

Katherine Ellis, a University at Buffalo law student, held a “Justice for Freddie Gray” sign as she waited for the main speakers to begin. “I’m here just to protest and stand united for all the victims of police brutality,” said Ellis, who cheered the decision by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to charge the officers.

Gray’s death following his arrest last month by police was tragic, said Pastor James E. Giles, a leader with Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, but the violence and looting that flared in Baltimore last week didn’t honor Gray’s memory.

“It’s unfortunate, what happened to him. But the response to that, to tear up Baltimore, the city, because of that did not help the cause. Doesn’t help the cause, doesn’t help the family,” said Giles, who led a contingent of Buffalo PeaceMakers.

For Eve Shippens, a teacher at the Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute and member of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization, race-driven inequality is a serious problem in public schools.

“Education is a civil rights issue, especially in places like Buffalo,” said Shippens, who pointed out that her institute is officially considered failing and, like other such schools, has far more students of color than high-performing schools.

After the speakers, the protesters marched for about 10 minutes around the intersection of Kensington and Bailey avenues, briefly bringing traffic to a standstill.