There were parents and children, ministers and community members, suburban police chiefs, elected and appointed officials as well as candidates at a forum Wednesday night on homicides and other violent crimes in Buffalo .
Neither Mayor Byron W. Brown, a Democrat, nor representatives of the Buffalo Police Department attended, although they were invited, said the organizers, Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant and Legislator Timothy Hogues, both of them Democrats.
Bernard A. Tolbert, who is challenging Brown for the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor, took the opportunity to make his first major public statement on crime in the community, which he said is one of his platforms.
He said it was telling that members of the city Police Department did not attend the meeting in the Frank E. Merriweather Library on Jefferson Avenue.
“It doesn’t matter how you feel about the individuals, Betty Jean Grant, Tim Hogues,” he said. “When you’ve got this many people coming together to talk about something that impacts our city, when we’re talking about a law enforcement issue, then the Buffalo Police Department, our law enforcement agency, needs to be here.”
He said the police would be represented at meetings on safety and crime if he is elected as mayor.
“I know how to fight crime and I guarantee you one thing,” said Tolbert, former head of the FBI’s Buffalo office. “It doesn’t matter where the venue, how many people, if we’ve got folks wanting to come together to talk about the crime problem in our city, I will guarantee you that the Buffalo Police Department will be represented, because the perception is they’re going to think the Buffalo Police Department doesn’t care.”
Also attending were GOP mayoral candidate Sergio R. Rodriguez, as well as Democratic Erie County Sheriff candidates Richard Dobson and Bert Dunn, although none was given the chance to speak. Most of the summit was not about politics, but about the best way to stem the violence. With 21 homicides so far this year, Buffalo is about on track to match last year’s total of 50, although police officials have noted recently that violent and other crimes have declined.
John A. Glascott, commissioner of Erie County Central Police Services, said the 911 system is almost overwhelmed with calls from Buffalo on weekend nights. It’s partly a function of multiple calls on cell phones about the same incident, he said.
The Rev. George F. Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church and Metropolitan United Methodist Church, urged the pastors in the audience of at least 150 people to join him on the podium, and about a dozen did. He urged them to work on solving problems that lead to violent crime.
“How long, and how many funerals of our young people are we going to go to before we decide, you know what, we’re going to work together?” he asked, adding it doesn’t matter who takes credit for helping. “If anyone is in a position of leadership in our community and they won’t commit to work with their brothers and sisters who are also in leadership, we need to remove them from leadership.”
The ministers pledged to meet again and to work together.
Several speakers encouraged adults to mentor young people, and one young woman stood up as an example of how to succeed.
“I was one of those kids who was an underdog. I was always told, ‘Oh, you’re not going to be anything, you’re not going to do anything with yourself,'” said Marshay Miller of Buffalo Save the Kids. “If I can do it, anybody can. I come from the streets. I used to stand on the corner. I used to sell drugs.”
A mini-uproar ensued near the end of the summit when one speaker accused Grant’s husband of engaging in criminal activity, but the hubbub subsided and the meeting continued without incident.