Protest in Buffalo leads to State of Emergency

Rioters set fire to a bail bonds van at Niagara Square in Downtown Buffalo. May 30, 2020
Rioters set fire to a bail bonds van at Niagara Square in Downtown Buffalo. May 30, 2020 Photo credit WBEN/Tim Wenger

BREAKING: A State of Emergency has been issued for Erie County due to protests. A countywide curfew is in effect from 10:30pm Saturday thru 7am Sunday.

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - "We're disheartened about the situation," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. He and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown held a late night news conference Saturday to announce a State of Emergency has been declared and a countywide curfew is in effect until 7am Sunday.

The actions are the result of a night of rioting, looting and vandalism in the city of Buffalo.  Police were using tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bangs to quell protestors.

Demonstrators began with a moment of silence, fists in the air, remaining in place for eight minutes, representing the time a police officer pressured the neck of Floyd before his death in Minneapolis.

About 90 minutes into the protest, the crowd turned angry. Some of the demonstrators started to charge the Robert Jackson Federal Courthouse. Others were breaking windows at Statler City. Police stood shoulder to shoulder wearing gas masks and carrying batons. Protestors were throwing rocks and water bottles at officers.

One moment that will be remembered for being a turning point was shortly before dark. An unidentified African-American woman got on a bullhorn in front of the crowd and said "No good is going to come of this, let's continue our march."  She is credited with de-escalating the situation.

In a Saturday evening news conference heard LIVE on WBEN, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said law enforcement showed tremendous professionalism. The Mayor said the majority of those at the protest were peaceful. He said outside agitators were responsible for bringing chaos to the event.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said "splinter" organizations sent people to Buffalo and Rochester specifically to incite violence.

Both leaders said they had been in touch with Governor Cuomo's office and were offered assistance to restore order. Mayor Brown said at this point State Police are coming in. If need be,  the National Guard could be called in. 

As of late Saturday night, officials said arrests ranged between 5 and 10 people.

"I love this city passionately," said Mayor Brown. "I'm glad that the National Association of Chiefs of Police have stepped up and condemned the officers' actions in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. People in Minneapolis and Buffalo and Erie County are hurting. Violence is not the answer. Constructive dialogue is the answer.  We are proud of those who came to peacefully protest their anger, but not of those who came here looking to create violence, mayhem and destruction." He said work is underway to identify those individuals.

Earlier in the day, the mayor had warned there may be opposition to the demonstrators and had a message for the community in advance of the demonstration.

A state of emergency for all of Erie County was declared late Saturday and a curfew was imposed until 7am Sunday.  County Executive Poloncarz said a curfew for Sunday would be assessed at some point during the day.