Protesters swing plastic baseball bats in solidarity with Willie Henley
A beautiful late summer day and the quest for racial justice brought out a crowd to Martin Luther King Jr. Park Sunday, continuing the push for basic changes in the Buffalo Police Department.
When Willie Henley collided with some Buffalo Police a week ago and allegedly hit an officer with the metal baseball bat he carried, his being shot by an officer created a symbol. At the end of the MLK rally, an array of colorful plastic baseball bats were brought out, marked with racial justice messages and given to an array of Henley family members who waved them.
Speakers talked of the need to move to a better society. Henley's niece, Tameshia Walker, said it has been hard.
"Everything's been really organized. What I think about all this is I appreciate everybody supporting me behind this, me being only 17, organizing protests and fundraisers," Walker said. "It's hard, but I manage to do it and I managed to get out here today. I actually have a lot of speakers."
Veteran activist Jim Anderson said all of this is a training program for the next generation of activists.
"It's in the midst of this moment that you see the skills sharpening skill. Because when one is in pain, they cry out all kinds of way and you have to allow that, but you also have to be very surgical in helping to guide them beyond their lack of understanding of what's really needed to do the job. We have to make the point to them that we must vote," Anderson said.
Anderson said many don't see the vote as the path to change.
Mental health counselor Erin M. Moss said it isn't just the civilians who need help, it's often the police officers themselves.
"There's no way that you can have a mental health crisis and not include the mental health clinicians or the social workers," Moss said. "Sometimes they can deal with that on their own, the mental health providers, and the police aren't needed. Other times, the police is needed, but you cannot eliminate them from that equation."
There is something of a fight among area social workers, with some absolutely opposed to working with police. Next month, a city contract with Endeavor Health Services kicks in to put therapists at the scene of 911 calls of personal crisis, like mental health crises.