Nearly five dozen Buffalo, New York, police officers, specially trained for civil unrest, resigned from their unit Friday after two colleagues were suspended for allegedly shoving and seriously injuring a 75-year-old protester, officials said.
The members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team quit that task force after the fallout from Thursday night’s incident, which was caught on video that went viral, according the Police Benevolent Association.
The two officers were suspended without pay, officials said.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” union president John Evans told NBC affiliate WGRZ.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown both said reinforcements from state police would be enough to keep the peace.
“We’re all going to work hard to make sure there is proper police presence on the streets in the city of Buffalo and throughout Erie County,” Poloncarz told reporters.
Brown accused the union of being a roadblock to improved police-community relations.
“This union has been on the wrong side of history for a very long period of time and they have been a real barrier to reform of policing in the city of Buffalo,” Brown told MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Friday night.
The senior citizen who was seriously injured Thursday night is longtime social justice activist Martin Gugino, an affordable housing advocacy organization he’s worked with said Friday.
“The protester, long-time PUSH Buffalo member Martin Gugino, has been a tireless fighter against injustice of all types for many years in our city both with PUSH and other grassroots organizations.” according to a statement issued Friday by People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH).
Video taken Thursday night by a reporter for the local National Public Radio affiliate WBFO shows Gugino outside City Hall approaching a large group of officers in tactical gear and saying something.
The officers yell for him to move back before one or two appear to push him before he falls backward, slams his head and then is bleeding and motionless on the ground.
One of the officers appears to lean over and say something to the fallen Gugino before a fellow officer pulls him back and they marched past the injured senior citizen.
While Brown said he was troubled by the shove, he defended the officers walking away.
They’re trained to stay in formation and allow medics, who are part of this squad, to swoop in and tend to the wounded, Brown said.
“It was seconds and within seconds, first aid was rendered to Mr. Gugino,” Brown told MSNBC.
“Am I happy with the situation? Absolutely not. Was it very distributing, very distressing to watch that gentleman pushed and fall backwards and hit his head? It absolutely was very distressing.”
Poloncarz called for the officers to be “held responsible for their actions, not just fired,” while the county district attorney’s office said it is investigating.
Gugino was taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo and was “unable to provide a statement to investigators” on Thursday night, prosecutors said.
He was in serious but stable condition in an area hospital, authorities said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Friday that he spoke with Gugino and that the incident “disturbs our basic sense of decency and humanity.”
“Why, why? Why was that necessary?” Cuomo said. “Where was the threat? Older gentleman, where was the threat? Then you just walk by the person when you see blood coming from his head?”
By 10 p.m. Friday, the video posted by WBFO had been viewed more than 74 million times.
The incident occurred shortly after the city’s curfew of 8 p.m. on Thursday, NBC affiliate WGRZ in Buffalo reported. Buffalo police initially said the man simply tripped and fell.
Rima Abdelkader and Caitlin Fichtel contributed.