Police in Buffalo, New York shoved an elderly white man to the ground on Thursday, leaving him bleeding from the head.
The incident was caught on camera by the NPR affiliate WBFO, and it’s being shared as a textbook example of police brutality. Social media users also say it proves the “few bad apples” argument doesn’t hold up.
The video shows that at least two dozen officers watched the assault take place and did nothing to help. In fact, many police discouraged the one officer who tried to check on the man’s welfare.
Viewed more than 40 million times in its original form on Twitter, the clip is disturbing to watch, joining a growing number of viral videos showing police brutality this week. The incident doesn’t appear to take place during a protest. The video clearly shows a large group of police outnumbering one civilian in an otherwise empty square.
The clip begins with the elderly man approaching a couple of officers, carrying a police helmet. He seems to be trying to return it to the police. After a few seconds of conversation, one of the officers shoves him so hard that he stumbles back several steps, falls, and hits his head on the ground. He then lies motionless, blood pooling beneath his head as a crowd of Buffalo police walk past. When one cop bends down to check on the man, he’s pulled away by one of his coworkers.
The police in the video appear reluctant to acknowledge the man bleeding on the ground, focusing their attention on arresting a nearby protester and chasing away the journalist filming the incident. The man was treated by two medics at the scene and is now described as being in serious but stable condition at a nearby hospital. He is suffering from a concussion.
Viewers on social media identified the officer who shoved the man as Aaron Torgalski, thanks to his name badge, and pointed out that one of the nearby officers had previously been pictured kneeling in respect for protesters. Numerous police departments have been criticized for kneeling or sharing gestures of solidarity as a publicity stunt, only to unleash tear gas or physical violence on protesters a few hours later.
WBFO said the incident took place “shortly after” Buffalo’s 8 p.m. curfew, and at 8:50 p.m., the Buffalo PD released a press statement about a “skirmish,” in which one person was arrested and another “was injured when he tripped & fell.”
It’s not clear whether this statement actually referred to the police who shoved the elderly man on camera, but the press release added fuel to the public’s demands to fire the officers involved.
By 11 p.m., two officers had been suspended without pay, and Buffalo’s mayor released a statement saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the video. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also denounced the officers’ behavior.
Social media users say the fallout from this incident highlights two key elements of the protests: Police brutality is ignored and denied unless it’s caught on camera and promoted to a wider audience and that there’s a massive disparity between how Black and white victims are treated.
The Black Lives Matter movement exists because white people––especially law enforcement and political leaders––ignored and downplayed the many, many examples of police brutality against Black people, often caught on camera in scenarios as blatantly clean cut as this one.
The Buffalo police officers were suspended within a few hours because it’s shocking to see them attack an elderly, defenseless white man, but politicians tend to pay far less attention to footage of police harming innocent Black people in a similar manner. And even in this case, only two officers have been suspended. There’s not yet repercussions for the many others who stood by idly while a man lay bleeding on the street.