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Peaceful protest turns violent in the City of Buffalo

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz declared a State of Emergency for Erie County, with a county wide curfew starting at 10:30 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A State of Emergency has been issued in Erie County following protests in downtown Buffalo that turned violent at times.  

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz declared a State of Emergency for Erie County, with a county wide curfew starting at 10:30 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday.

Protests were held across the country following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week. Saturday afternoon, a mostly peaceful protest was held in the City of Buffalo, although local officials were concerned about it turning violent.

The rally started in Niagara Square with a few people gathering for silent prayer, and by 5 p.m. hundreds gathered in front of Buffalo City Hall chanting, "I can't breathe," "Justice for George" and "black lives matter." Several people spoke on a megaphone sharing similar sentiments.

At one point those gathered took a knee for a moment of silence in remembrance of Floyd.

Shortly after 5 p.m. the Buffalo Peacemakers arrived on scene and were given applause from the crowd. About a half hour later, the crowd began marching north on Delaware Avenue into Allentown. The crowd eventually marched its way down Elmwood Avenue back to Niagara Square.

Just before 7 p.m. the protest moved toward the federal courthouse and at one point there was a physical confrontation between authorities and protestors. 

Officials say one person was badly beaten after they tried to drive through the protest.That person was taken to the hospital. 

Around 8:30 p.m. Buffalo Police declared unlawful gathering and told the crowd they had two minutes to disperse. Anyone who remained would be subject to physical removal and arrest.

Just before 9 p.m., about 500 protesters left Niagara Square and walked down Niagara Street towards Maryland, according to Mayor Brown.

When asked if there were any reports of vandalism or looting, Mayor Brown said he received a text from Amherst Police about vandalism at University Plaza. He did not have any more details to confirm. 

A Twitter user posted this video on the social media site of people taking items from a business at the University Plaza in Amherst.

Poloncarz says there is an active police presence in all Erie County suburbs to patrol for potential problems. He says the problems are being incited by outsiders.

Brown added that law enforcement at the protest were pelted with rocks and bottles from protesters. Brown also says that windows were broken at the Statler, and there has been looting and vandalism on Niagara Street and Grant Street.

At 1 a.m. on Sunday Poloncarz posted on Twitter that there was damage at the Erie County Family Court Building. Poloncarz says New York State court officers were in the building and kept them from further entry.

Both Brown and Poloncarz said they received intelligence that outsiders were coming to Buffalo. Federal marshals were prepared for any potential incidents near the Robert H. Jackson Federal Courthouse, because of that intelligence. The courthouse exterior is glass and has the constitution inscribed on it. 

So far, at least five to 10 people have been arrested by City of Buffalo officers. Poloncarz says that anyone on the streets during this State of Emergency will be subject to potential arrest. He added that they want everyone to be safe, and everyone should go home.

Brown says Governor Andrew Cuomo offered assistance to the City of Buffalo and Erie County to help restore order and ensure Erie County residents are safe. Poloncarz says the governor's office and the head of emergency services for New York State has offered Erie County whatever they need, including additional state troopers and the national guard.

Poloncarz says the county is going to do its best to ensure this does not happen again on Sunday. He added that officials will make a determination by Sunday afternoon to whether or not a curfew will be in place for Sunday night. He said that decision will be based on discussions with law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels.

Prior to the protest, Mayor Brown issued a video message to the community, saying peaceful protest is a way for people to express their hurt and outrage. However, Brown says that "outside agitators" are planning to come to the protest in Buffalo.

Brown says these outsiders are planning to incite violence and disrupt the peace of the community.

"We cannot let outside agitators come into our community and create violence and chaos and damage our ability to heal from this event, other incidents and to come together in thoughtful constructive dialog to produce real change in Buffalo, Minneapolis, and all across this country," Brown said.

Brown says the City of Buffalo respects and honors people's right to peacefully protest, adding the city will protect that right. 

At the start of the protest, a few dozen people had gathered in Niagara Square. 

The Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood posted a message on Facebook Saturday morning. Lockwood said he was disturbed by the actions of the four police officers that lead to Floyd's death. He added that he believes people have the right to peacefully assemble and the department will allow people to do so in Buffalo. 

A spokesperson for the City of Buffalo says we will likely hear from Mayor Byron Brown on Saturday. On Friday, Two On Your Side's Jeff Preval was able to ask him about the situation. 

"Do you think the Buffalo Police Department regardless of the steps that it has made, do you think the Buffalo Police Department still needs to make any more headway in terms of reform?" Asked Preval.

"In whatever you're doing, no matter how hard you work no matter the progress and the strides that you make there's always room for improvement," Brown said. 

You can read the entire statement from Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood below:

I wanted to take a moment and address the current situation occurring in Minneapolis and other parts of the country. I am deeply disturbed by the actions of the four Minneapolis Police Officers that led to the death of George Floyd. Conduct like that shows a total disregard for the life of another human being. This event, along with other situations, has led to feelings of anger and frustration within our communities. The way to prevent situations from occurring like what we are seeing around our nation, is for police departments around the country to continue to act professionally, responsibly and to value each and every person's life as if it were our own. Since becoming Commissioner, my biggest priority has been to continue building stronger relationships between the BPD and the community. We have never had a more robust community policing focus within our department then we do now.. We as a Police Department shall respect people's first amendment rights and will allow peaceful assemblies to occur. Remember, it is our actions in difficult times, that define our reputations for a lifetime.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says he is hoping the protest tonight in Buffalo will be conducted peacefully. He added that the vast majority of people will protest peacefully, but he believes some individuals have violence on their minds.

Watch the full press conference with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz below:

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