Our opinion: Lessons in excessive force

Use of excessive force by law enforcement personnel is a problem that transcends race, as a video shot a week ago in Buffalo makes clear.

Taken by a radio news crew, the video shows Buffalo police responding to a demonstration in the city’s Niagara Square. Like so many throughout the United States, the protest was linked to the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis on May 25.

Floyd died after four Minneapolis officers arrested him, placed handcuffs on him and forced him to lie face-down on the street. One officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd died as a result.

In Buffalo, police had begun to move toward protesters when Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old white man, approached the officers. In the video, he appears to hold his hand out toward one, who shoves him away — hard.

Gugino falls to the pavement, striking his head. As he lies there, blood begins to pool under his head. One officer stops, as if to assist Gugino, but is ordered to keep moving. Police did summon help, and Gugino was taken to a hospital. It appears he will recover from the injury.

Buffalo police initially insisted Gugino “was injured when he tripped and fell.” No. He was pushed so hard he fell.

An investigation into what happened has been launched by the police department — but the video makes it apparent an older man (Gugino has white hair) was involved.

Did police fear he was a threat? What did he say to the officers? Was his outstretched hand mistakenly thought to be an aggressive move? All that remains to be determined.

What we do know is that unnecessary force was used.

The situation with George Floyd was much different, of course. It is impossible to watch his videotaped dying moments without concluding malice and an intention to harm Floyd were involved.

Still, the Buffalo incident makes it clear that, regardless of race, some law enforcement personnel need more training in avoiding unnecessary use of force — or, perhaps, should not be officers in the first place, because of their temperaments.

That said, the overwhelming majority of police officers and sheriffs’ deputies do all in their power to avoid harming people unnecessarily. Doing something about the few bad apples in their midst would be a service to them, as well as the public.


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