Photo by BARC
Various publications highlight the rising tide which Buffalo has been riding, from our ever growing refugee community bringing new businesses to the streets, to the thriving art culture, to being named one of the best cities in which to live.
I don’t mean to be a pessimist; Buffalo is definitely working its way to the top, but it would be inane to deny that we have our ills.
The black community in New York State makes up about 14% of the population. Roughly 49% of that population are inmates in custody, according to a 2013 report by the State of New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Buffalo is also the sixth most segregated city in the country. That being said, it’s no wonder why an organization like the Buffalo AntiRacism Coalition (BARC) exists.
Since the murder of Treyvon Martin, these folks have been organizing and addressing racism in politics and education. After a trip to Ferguson, following the murder of Michael Brown, BARC founders Brandon Absher and Luana DeJesus formalized the group.
“We are a coalition of individuals fighting to eradicate racism in all of its forms and manifestations. We are abolitionists, ultimately, and we elevate voices that are generally not heard such as younger people, women, and people of color,” DeJesus said.
BARC strives to spread awareness through the many workshops and documentary screenings they host. They also lead discussions called ‘freedom schools,’ in reference to the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer.
Currently, they have been fighting for justice for India Cummings, the 27-year old woman who mysteriously died after being released from the Erie County Holding Center (ECHC). BARC has made a call for accountability and for the resignation of Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard. They are also calling for greater transparency within the holding center.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released an investigation of the ECHC and the Erie County Correctional Facility (ECCF). In the investigation, they reported that the “Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the Jail Management Division, and the Erie County Department of Mental Health fail to provide adequate suicide prevention; mental health care; medical care; protection from harm; and safe and sanitary environmental conditions.”
With this in mind, BARC has a list of demands. The list includes that the ECHC release all documents and video footage as it pertains to India Cummings and others who have died under their care. They want the findings in the aforementioned report to be addressed in a way that holds the responsible parties publicly accountable.
“Just because you put a badge on doesn’t give you the license to beat the shit out of people, or kill people, or withhold their medication. We know those things happen in the holding center, we know they happen with regularity, the DOJ explicitly stated that those things happen at the holding center with regularity. If we know it is happening, there has to be a way to ensure accountability that the people responsible for it don’t continue to do it with impunity,” Absher said.
The events and workshops hosted by BARC also educate individuals on the formation of the police force as well as alternatives to the prison system, such as diversion, transformative justice, restorative justice, and peace hubs. According to Absher, BARC has opened up a public space outside of the mainstream narrative and a public consciousness for action.
BARC meets every second Friday of the month at 322 Amherst Street.