A Cattaraugus County man accused of holding a knife and shouting racial slurs at Black Lives Matter protesters Friday as he stood in the middle of a North Buffalo intersection is facing several charges in what police are calling a hate crime.
Michael Cremen, 47, of Franklinville, is charged with menacing, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon, Capt. Jeff Rinaldo, a Buffalo police spokesman, said in an email to reporters.
The encounter on Hertel Avenue drew wide condemnation as still images and video footage of the confrontation spread on social media over the weekend.
“The Buffalo Police Department is on top of that," Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said on his latest WUFO "Talk of the Town" radio show in calling for charges.
And a "Don't Be Silent, North Buffalo" event will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Park Community School No. 50 to respond to Friday night's incident.
"This peaceful gathering will be a brief but powerful message that there is no room for hate and racism in North Buffalo," the organizer wrote on Facebook.
The encounter, according to witnesses and videos shared online, began shortly after 6 p.m. as a Black Lives Matter march heading west on Hertel got to Parkside Avenue.
Two white men are seen standing in the intersection repeatedly screaming a racial slur, punctuated with expletives, as the initial group of protesters arrive. The men were yelling at the group to stay out of "my neighborhood" or "our neighborhood," protester Benjamin M. Siegel said in an interview.
It's not known what the man with the knife meant by that given he's from Franklinville, which is about 60 miles from North Buffalo, while many of the protesters were from the neighborhood.
"The knife-wielding outside agitator has been arrested. His racist comments have no place in our great city," Councilman Joel Feroleto, whose district includes this neighborhood, said in a tweet. "I commend everyone who kept their cool and de-escalated the situation."
More footage was sent to me. They were screaming the N word and the cops just sat in their cars😡THIS IS WHY WE MARCH pic.twitter.com/j071gluc2Z— Queencityfeminist (@Queencityfemnst) August 29, 2020
Matthew Pelkey, who was driving on Hertel near Parkside, said the two men came from inside a nearby bar or restaurant to confront demonstrators.
“He was obviously trying to provoke things with the protesters,” said Pelkey, an attorney and law professor at the University at Buffalo. “It was a pretty frightening situation.”
The encounter grew more tense, interviews and video footage show, especially as people realized one man was holding a knife behind his back and at his side. It’s not clear whether he threatened to use it on anyone.
Some protesters, including those holding bicycles, pushed at the two men to get them out of the intersection, with the men pushing back at times. No injuries were reported and the protesters eventually moved on.
The menacing count was charged as a hate crime because Cremen is accused of using racial slurs against the diverse group of protesters. He was issued appearance tickets to return to court at a later date.
Siegel pursued charges and said he’s frustrated police didn’t intercede in the moment. Two police vehicles are seen clearly in video and photo images from the scene. One inched forward as the first protesters encountered the two men, but it doesn't appear the officers got out of their vehicles to defuse the situation.
“They just turn a blind eye to it,” Siegel said.
Rinaldo said in an interview that, generally speaking, both protesters and people who disagree with them have the right to express their opinions.
He said officers try to give the protesters space even though they’re not supposed to be walking down the middle of the street interfering with traffic without a permit for the march.
“What’s the most expedient thing to do? Keep everybody moving,” Rinaldo said.
News Staff Reporter Jay Tokasz contributed to this report.