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Protesters interrupt Council committee to demand Police Oversight meeting

A group of about a dozen community activists disrupted a Common Council committee meeting Tuesday to protest the cancellation of the Police Oversight Committee meeting and to urge council members to reschedule the session for September as opposed to waiting until January.

The protesters – members of Just Resisting and other Buffalo residents – brought Tuesday’s Community Development Committee meeting to a brief standstill as they broke out in a chorus of chants, even shouting some of the chants directly at Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a retired city police officer who chairs the oversight panel.

The council re-established the Police Oversight Committee three years ago to address police misconduct in the city. The committee meets twice a year – in January and July – and provides a process for residents to voice concerns to the police department and to the council.

The second 2017 meeting was scheduled for Tuesday but was cancelled by the police department because of conflicting schedules, said Michael J. DeGeorge, department spokesman. The police and committee will reschedule for another date, he said.

That was not good enough for the demonstrators, who began their protest at the start of the community development meeting. Almost immediately, Chairman Joseph Golombek Jr. of the North District recessed the public meeting, but that didn’t stop the protesters.

“Councilman Rivera, will you push the Buffalo Police Department to reschedule in September?” they repeated in unison several times.

Rivera did not immediately respond, but he later addressed the crowd and directed the group to meet with him in his office.

“This is a meeting that is designated for community development,” said Rivera, who announced the cancellation of the Police Oversight Committee meeting during last week’s council meeting. “If you want to speak with me, come into my office.”

Council President Darius G. Pridgen said the oversight meeting will be rescheduled as soon as possible, which brought some measure of satisfaction to the group.

“We still want to make sure the meeting is sometime soon,” said Just Resisting organizer Phylicia Brown, adding they plan to take Rivera up on his offer.

The interruption during Tuesday’s meeting lasted three or four minutes. The demonstrators continued chanting on their way out: “We know we disrupted your meeting, but we had to make certain our voices were heard. We look forward to the Police Oversight Committee meeting in September.”

Just Resisting also was part of a coalition of social justice and community activists who demanded last May that Buffalo lawmakers override Mayor Byron W. Brown’s plans to increase the city’s police department budget by $500,000 in the city’s overall 2017-18 budget.

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