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Hundreds protest Buffalo Police shooting of mentally ill man swinging baseball bat

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said there will be major changes in the way police deal with people who are dealing with mental illness, a change bargained with the Police Benevolent Association. But protesters said they not only want those changes, but a change in the mayor's office.

"What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now."

That was the chant Sunday in the wake of an officer-involved shooting Saturday. The area's summer of protests heated up again, with hundreds showing up to protest the shooting of Willie Henley, 60.

While the incident was caught on numerous police body cams, none has been released. The official version is that officers walked for blocks from near Genesee Street and Michigan Avenue, on the city's East Side, with Henley, as they tried to end the mentally ill man swinging his baseball bat.

Brown talked on his Sunday morning radio show about the incident.

"The man began to swing the bat at a police officer and struck her," Brown said. "He attempted to swing the bat again. At that point, another officer discharged his weapon and shot the individual. The man was taken to ECMC immediately."

Brown said Henley was listed in stable condition Sunday. He also noted that Capt. Amber Beyer was named as the city's first crisis intervention and training coordinator in 2018 and over 125 officers have received this training to deal with mentally ill residents. He said another major program will be announced within days.

"We're going to do something very major. Something very positive. And the only delay in moving this initiative forward was that we were negotiating it with the police union. Those negotiations have been successfully concluded," Brown said.

Credit Byron Brown / Facebook
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown talks about the shooting of Wille Henley on WUFO Sunday.

Family members said their father refused treatment for his bullet wound for hours until daughter Ieshea Henley was able to find out what happened and persuade the hospital she could authorize treatment.

Daughter Monique Henley admitted her father has problems, but is well known around the Genesee and Michigan area, where has used both the Harbor House shelter and City Mission.

"He's a good person. A lot of people in the neighborhood knows him. He doesn't bother nobody. He just loves to walk the streets," Henley said. "I can say he's not really no harmful person. My Dad stays to himself. He maybe does a little sharpness to himself, but he don't harm or bother no one. He speaks to himself. He's a loving and he's caring person. That's why I don't understand why this had to happen."

The protesters argued it shouldn't have happened and the Police Department should be defunded to provide money for care and treatment of the mentally ill instead of police engaging in confrontations with them.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Protesters make a stop in front of the B District Police station.

One of the most vocal critics of the Police Department is Myles Carter. He was arrested during a TV interview in June, with the charges later dropped. During a stop in the protest caravan in front of B-District at Main and Tupper streets in downtown Buffalo, Carter blasted the Police Department and individual officers.

"$143 million a year and you can't properly de-escalate a mental health situation (crowd reacts). Not only that, how many police officers in here are guilty of crimes against our people? (crowd) How many? I have a list," Carter said.

Speaker after speaker called for the mayor to resign, for the power of the PBA to protect officers to go away and for the Police Department budget to be diverted from law enforcement to other city purposes, from care of the mentally ill to fixing potholes.

That was Taniqua Simmons' point of view.

"Do you want to know what a defunded city looks like? (voices: "Yes sir.") Raise your hand if you have been to Orchard Park. Raise your hand if you have been to Williamsville or to Amherst. Their police are defunded and their streets don't have a whole bunch of potholes because they have money for that."

Protest leaders said they will have a specific goal each day and expect to continue the marches until Brown and Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood resign and the officers involved in the Henley shooting are criminally charged.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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