BUFFALO, N.Y. – Martin Gugino is not one to stand out in a crowd.
The 75-year-old Amherst, New York, resident’s goal at rallies and protests is to ask questions, bring the community together and stand in quiet solidarity for peace, friends and his lawyer said Friday.
But he was thrust into the national spotlight Thursday night after he was pushed to the ground by a Buffalo police officer after peaceful protests at Buffalo City Hall.
Videos from the incident showed Gugino approaching a line of police, and then an officer pushing him backward.
Gugino stumbled back and then fell to the ground, his head hitting the sidewalk. Blood pooled around the back of his head almost immediately.
Bystanders who were at the scene said police called medical personnel, who showed up within minutes.
“There was blood dripping out of (Gugino’s) ear,” said Jamie Quinn, 17, of Buffalo, who was there taking photos just after 8 p.m. Thursday, which is when the city’s curfew started.
Quinn was standing on the steps of City Hall right after the incident. Gugino’s fall appeared to have been an accident, he said, but Quinn was nevertheless disgusted by the actions of police in the moment.
“I was simultaneously wanting to cry and trying not to vomit,” he said.
Gugino is in serious but stable condition and is alert, according to the Erie County Medical Center.
“It is a tragedy,” said Terrence Bisson, who has known Gugino for about 10 years, referring to the incident Thursday.
“(Gugino) comes from a peace tradition that meant it’s important to be witness to justice,” Bisson added.
The two met each other through their work with Witness Against Torture, a group calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, and through the Western New York Peace Center, a human-rights group.
Bisson last spoke to Gugino over Zoom on Monday night, and he said Gugino did not specifically mention going to the protests this week.
As of Friday evening, Bisson had not been able to speak to Gugino in the hospital.
Early Thursday morning, Gugino wrote on Twitter about his concerns with police curfews.
“Protests are exempt from curfews because Congress (and mayors) may make no laws that abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble and complain to the government,” he wrote.
“The government should receive the complaint with thanks, not arrest the people or beat them.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown released a statement Thursday evening about the incident, saying that he was “deeply disturbed” by the video.
The police chief, Byron Lockwood, ordered an internal investigation into the matter, and two officers were later suspended without pay.
Over 50 members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response team resigned their special positions Friday in response to the suspensions, according to multiple news outlets.
“I hope to continue to build on the progress we have achieved as we work together to address racial injustice and inequity in the City of Buffalo. My thoughts are with the victim tonight,” Brown wrote in Thursday’s statement.
His statements were echoed by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a briefing on Friday, who said the incident was “wholly avoidable.”
“Buffalo is known as the city of good neighbors,” said Poloncarz. “Unfortunately, last night, it was not. What we saw last night in front of City Hall is not acceptable here; it is not acceptable anywhere.”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced his office is looking into the incident to determine if criminal action is warranted, Poloncarz said.
“We can only address racial injustice and eliminate police brutality when we are united in our efforts and do so under the law,” Poloncarz said.
Gugino’s goal is always “peace and justice,” and he is “very devoted to principle,” said Victoria Ross, executive director of the Western New York Peace Center.
Gugino’s attorney, Kelly Zarcone, said in a statement Friday that her client has been a longtime peaceful protester, a human rights advocate and an “overall fan of the U.S. Constitution for many years.”
“Mr. Gugino requests privacy for himself and his family as he recovers. He appreciates all of the well wishes he has received and requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful,” the statement read.
Follow Sarah Taddeo on Twitter: @sjtaddeo