Darius G. Pridgen said it didn’t feel like Independence Day when Buffalo police turned away about a quarter of his guests for a cookout at his waterfront residence as they tried to pull down his street.
And this wasn’t the first time it has happened, the Common Council president said. But what troubled him more about Tuesday night was that the guests of other neighbors – who didn’t “look like him” – were granted access to the street and not asked for identification as his guests were, he said.
It’s not right and not fair, he said Wednesday from his 13th floor office in City Hall.
“Last night for me was simply about access,” Pridgen said. “I’m only looking for positive change so all people feel welcome in all parts of the city.”
Pridgen took to Facebook Tuesday night to voice his frustrations.
“I know that has been a huge controversy because an African-American male who is a pastor lives on the waterfront,” he posted Tuesday night during the gathering at his home.
Pridgen is the pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street and also said everyone needs to get used to “diverse people” living on the waterfront.
“Get with it. It’s not the Buffalo of old,” he posted on Facebook. “It is what it is.”
Buffalo Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division is investigating Tuesday night’s incident, said Lt. Jeff Rinaldo, adding that traffic is a concern in the waterfront neighborhood during the fireworks display, especially on Pridgen’s street, which is close to Canalside where the fireworks show was being held.
Pridgen said in his post that he’s not down on Buffalo police because a city can’t run without a great police department.
“I love Canalside,” he continued. “I love that Buffalo is doing well, but it should not be exclusively for one side to enjoy as if it is wrong because we live here ... People should be treated equally. That’s what real Independence Day is. It’s Independence Day, and we still can’t live independently.”
Preventing his guests from coming to his house has been a recurring theme, Pridgen said. For the past two years, people invited to his Fourth of July cookout have told him that police stop and turn them away from coming to his house, he said. This year, to ensure his guests would not run into the same problem, he said he made calls to “people in power” to let them know he was having the get-together.
But again this year, several of his visitors were turned away or asked for identification when they tried to make their way to his waterfront residence, Pridgen said. He left his home to retrieve at least two guests. One was Felicia Stanley, his chief of staff.
“I was trying to turn down his street, and I explained where I was going and she said, ‘I don’t care. That doesn’t have anything to do with me,’ ” Stanley said on the Facebook post.
“But he said … that we should be able to get through,” Stanley said she told the officer.
The officer, Stanley said, responded: “You have to figure that out. That has nothing to do with me. You have to keep it moving.”
After being turned away, Stanley eventually was allowed in, Pridgen said Wednesday.
Another visitor said police told her they didn’t care who she was coming to visit. She still had to leave, Pridgen said on his Facebook post.
A different guest who was turned away called Pridgen on her cellphone. That’s when Pridgen got a ride from his son to the corner where police were stationed, which was about four blocks from his home. When he arrived, he said he noticed that the guests of neighbors on both sides of him were allowed access onto the street.
“None of their guests got stopped,” Pridgen said on his Facebook post. “All of their guests were allowed to come in … They (his neighbors) didn’t have to go up to the corner to get their guests.”
A young associate of Pridgen’s, who also works in City Hall, also arrived at the scene, and when he got out of his car, a police officer questioned him about what the young man was planning to do when he got out of his vehicle, Pridgen said on Facebook.
“And I said to them if you arrest him, arrest me, too,” the post continued. “Tonight I was willing to go to jail. For what? For people to come to my house. That’s not independence. That’s not America. It’s wrong.”
“This is about access, and that’s the only thing I have been concerned about when it came to the changes happening in downtown Buffalo,” said Pridgen on Wednesday.
He pointed out that when Canalside started having concerts, he met with the operators of the concerts along with Mayor Byron W. Brown and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, to talk about diversity in the concert offerings.
“They listened, and they changed,” Pridgen said.
And when a $5 parking fee for special events at the Erie Basin Marina was proposed, Pridgen was among city lawmakers who spoke against it. The marina manager said that without the fee, the parking lot overflows with Canalside attendees during special events on the waterfront, creating safety problems and making it difficult for slip holders and others to find parking.
“They were going to charge people to come into a public park funded by the public. I had a fit,” Pridgen said Wednesday. “We got it changed because it was about access.”