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Editorial: Tim Hortons incident is disturbing, but unclear

It will be up to Buffalo Police to sort out what happened in the confrontation between a customer and a security guard last month at a Tim Hortons shop at Main and Court streets downtown. Everyone else should take a deep breath.

A video of the fracas was posted to Facebook and has been viewed nearly 500,000 times, attracting 2,300 comments. Many of the commenters focus on race – the man in the shop was black and the security guard white. Some question why the police officer who came to the scene arrested 53-year-old Daryl Mingo, the customer, after both men shoved each other and threw punches, according to what’s captured in the video.

The video does not portray either man in a favorable light. Mingo appears to be acting belligerently toward the security guard, using profane language. Both men wag fingers in each others’ faces, and Mingo appears to provoke the guard by bumping into him at the counter. The guard is trying to restore order at the scene but it appears that the physical force he uses against the man is excessive. He might have been able to usher the man outside without shoving him onto the floor, or better still, just stepped back and waited for the police to arrive.

The larger point is that we don’t know all the facts. The problem with public trial by video is that video can be edited, manipulated, or through lack of clarity, show viewers what they are predisposed to believe. Some of the video commenters assume the security guard is to blame, and others heap their scorn on Mingo.

Because this was a confrontation between a white man and a black man, many are using too broad a brush, given what is known so far. They are prematurely conflating this confrontation with highly publicized and disturbing instances of white people calling the police because a person of color was sleeping in a public place, asking to use the restroom at a coffee shop or selling bottled water without a permit (and being 8 years old).

The woman in San Francisco who called the police on the young water vendor was nicknamed Permit Patty on social media. The public backlash caused her to resign her position as CEO of a company that sells cannabis-infused medical products.

A similar incident happened at a Dollar General store last month on Genesee Street, where a cashier became known as Coupon Ken after his tense confrontation with a Buffalo Public Schools teacher over the use of coupons. It also was videotaped and widely viewed. Ken Dudek, who is white, was fired by Dollar General after the incident. Madonna Wilburn, who is African-American, posted the video of her confrontation with Dudek, who she maintained was hostile to her.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood on Monday said the police are “looking into” the arrest of Mingo after viewing the full video. Before Mingo or the security guard are tried in the court of public opinion, law enforcement officials should be left to do their jobs without having to answer to mobs of social media critics.

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