My name is Steve Peraza, and I am an unarmed black man who lives in Buffalo, New York. Until recently city leaders promised that I had nothing to fear from police. The proof? No one had died in police custody. All that changed on Tuesday night.

On February 7, 2017, the Buffalo News reports, two Buffalo police officers restrained and handcuffed Wardel Davis, an unarmed, twenty-year-old black man from Buffalo’s west side. The arrest cost Davis his life.

Police officers confronted Davis after leaving a house suspected of drug activity.  When confronted, the officers allege, Davis tried to run, and even threw blows with the cops in a vain attempt to escape. The officers subdued Davis, put him in cuffs, and then tried to stand him up to haul him in. That’s when the officers claim to have discovered Davis was in “medical distress,” and tried to administer CPR to resuscitate him. But Davis died.

This story can (and probably will) transform the City. There have been plenty of conversations among local leaders about the potential that a “Ferguson” could happen in Buffalo. Will a Buffalo police officer murder an unarmed black man? Will black Buffalo revolt in protest?

While no one denied the possibility outright, most claimed that it was unlikely, because no one had died in custody. Some even praised the Buffalo police; the absence of tragedy was being hailed as a policing success.

Now what? Wardel Davis is dead. Is it time for reform?

I’m sure the media will emphasize that Wardel Davis has drug convictions. That he tried to run. That he threw a punch. Blaming the victim is the norm when (black) people are killed in custody. So, I’m sure critics will throw shade.

But evidence is mounting that police reform is needed. Investigative journalists have uncovered various problems with local policing: Illegal traffic stops, poor training, and lack of accreditation, just to name a few. Movement building organizations have campaigned for more community policing. And Buffalo residents have filled City Hall, demanding that the BPD make improvements. Still, nothing has moved the needle.

Is change on the horizon now that tragedy has struck?

It’s perverse to think a young man had to die before the people we pay to protect and serve will do just that – protect and serve. But blood is on their hands now. If they keep stalling, violence will explode in Buffalo like it did fifty years ago.

 

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