Calling a video of western New York cops pushing a 75-year-old man to a sidewalk “fundamentally offensive and frightening,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded the resulting suspension of two Buffalo police officers on Friday.
Cuomo told reporters that he spoke on the phone with the man, who “is thankfully alive” after being knocked to the ground in Buffalo by two heavily armored officers.
The man, who has been identified by multiple news outlets as Martin Gugino, stood alone in front of an approaching line of police officers, video of the incident shows.
As he gestured to one of the cops, others yelled for him to move back, and two officers pushed him in the chest, knocking him over backward. The video showed blood coming from the man’s head as he lay motionless on the ground. Police did not immediately tend to him.
“You see that video and it disturbs your basic sense of decency and humanity,” Cuomo said. “Why? Why? Why was that necessary?”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement Thursday night that the elderly man was in “serious but stable condition” at Erie County Medical Center.
“I was deeply disturbed by the video, as was Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood,” who has directed an investigation into the incident, Brown’s statement said.
Buffalo police at first said “one person was injured when he tripped and fell,” according to local outlet WIVB. Buffalo Police Department Captain Jeff Rinaldo could not be reached by phone for comment.
The two officers have been suspended without pay, Brown said in the statement. The mayor noted that the incident happened after a “physical altercation between two separate groups of protesters in an illegal demonstration beyond the curfew.”
The altercation followed days of protests in Buffalo and across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Violence and looting have broken out of some of the protests, prompting city and state leaders to significantly ramp up their law enforcement efforts.
“How did we get to this place?” Cuomo said at his presser, citing instances of protesters and officers alike being attacked amid the protests.
Cuomo applauded the Buffalo mayor, adding “I believe the district attorney is looking into it from a possible criminal liability point of view, and I applaud the district attorney for moving quickly.”
Officers in New York City, which saw widespread property destruction and hundreds of arrests on Monday night, have been criticized for their use of force against protesters. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have sparred over the law enforcement response to the protests, with the governor accusing the mayor of underestimating “the scope of the problem.”