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Faces of state violence? Two Buffalo cops plead not guilty to assaulting 75 year old peace activist

Aaron Torgalski & Robert McCabe
Pictured, Aaron Torgalski & Robert McCabe.
Aaron Torgalski & Robert McCabe
Pictured, Aaron Torgalski & Robert McCabe.

Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe plead not guilty to second degree assault after video showed them shoving Martin Gugino to the ground causing him egregious injuries. Police brutality in a capitalist state. 

Two Buffalo cops filmed shoving a 75 year old peace activist onto the pavement causing him to crack his head have been charged with second degree assault. The charges arrive as hundreds of colleagues gathered outside the city court in solidarity to cheer the two men’s release without bail.  

Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were each charged with one count of assault in the second degree in a court hearing Saturday morning following Thursday’s incident which left Martin Gugino in a ‘serious condition’ in hospital.  

Both officers pleaded not guilty to the charges, and face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the class D felony. They were released without bail and are scheduled to return back in court on July 20.

DA John Flynn said the two police officers had ‘crossed the line’ and ‘violated the law‘ in what he described as the ‘very unfortunate incident’ in a press conference announcing the charges Saturday morning.

‘Whenever you have different entities – you’re always going to have individuals that cross the line and this is what we have to address,’ he said. 

‘We had two of our police officers cross the line’ — in front of the camera. 

‘We obviously had a very unfortunate incident that occurred here Thursday night in the City of Buffalo,’ he said. 

‘We had two of our police officers cross the line. We had two of our police officers charged and arrested this morning.’   

He added that Gugino was just ‘a harmless 75-year-old man’ and said the initial reports that he fell backwards and hit his head ‘obviously not true’. 

Flynn explained that the severity of the charges was necessary because the law in New York states that if the victim is 65 years or older and the perpetrator is 10 years younger than them then it is classed as a felony charge.

‘The victim is a 75-year-old,’ he said. ‘I have to follow the law.’ 

He admitted that if Gugino was under the age of 65 ‘most likely’ Aaron Torgalski & Robert McCabe would have been given lesser charges of a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum of up to 364 days in jail.

The only question a jury will need to decide ‘is whether or not [the actions of the officers were done with] intent or reckless’, Flynn reiterated.  

‘We obviously have a conflict in this country…’ 

Flynn also said it is too simple to think the conflict in the city and across the US is between law enforcement on one side and society on the other as he pleaded both cops and protesters to find ‘peace’. 

‘We obviously have a conflict in this country and I don’t think it’s fair to characterize the conflict as two sides – law enforcement versus society,’ he said. ‘It’s much more complex than that.’

He also admitted he was ready to arrest the two cops Friday afternoon but held back, after the entire 57-strong Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team resigned in outrage at the two cops’ suspension without pay, saying he feared the city would not be safe if he made the move then.  

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo welcomed the news of the charges and praised the Buffalo mayor and DA for acting quickly following the incident, one day after the governor said the footage made him ‘physically sick’ and had called for the two cops to be fired and face criminal charges.

‘In Buffalo, we saw the video. What we saw was horrendous and disgusting and I think illegal,’ Cuomo said during his press conference Saturday.  

‘I think what the mayor did and the DA did is the right thing.’

Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe
Aaron Torgalski (pictured) and Robert McCabe: the faces of state violence?

‘A bad police officer is the enemy of every good police officer.’

Cuomo added: ‘A bad police officer is the enemy of every good police officer.’

The governor said he ‘applauds’ the rapid response from Buffalo authorities and pointed to mistakes made in Minneapolis where delays in bringing charges against the cops responsible for George Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the nation. 

‘I think there was criminal liability from what I saw on the video and I think what the mayor did and the DA did was right and I applaud them for acting as quickly as they did,’ said Cuomo.

‘There’s no tolerance for delaying justice in society anymore – justice delayed is justice denied.’ 

Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood released a statement Saturday afternoon saying the officers continue to be suspended without pay and said he was ‘proud’ of how most officers have handled ‘one of the most difficult times in our history’.

‘My officers have been through, and continue to work through, one of the most difficult times in our history. I stand by the men and women of the Buffalo Police Department and I’m proud of how they have handled the vast majority of the situations and encounters that they have faced,’ he said. 

A Change.Org petition calling for the firing of Torgalski has gained more than 488,000 signatures while separate footage has surfaced of officers from the same department violently tackling another protester from behind.

It claims Gugino was ‘trying to return an officers helmet he found’ and says Torgalski was ‘abusing his power as a police officer for NO REASON’.’

‘Aaron Torgalski should not be in control of our safety! This man does not deserve a badge! This man should not be allowed to hold a gun and carry out the law! Fire him! And the others involved!!!’ the petition reads. 

Martin Gugino Amherst peace activist
Martin Gugino Amherst peace activist: the face of a state agitator?

Martin Gugino Amherst peace activist: the face of a state agitator?

Outrage has been building since the footage emerged of elderly peaceful protester Gugino being pushed to the ground by the Buffalo cops, cracking his head on the sidewalk and lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood on the ground as officers continue to walk around him.

The incident has sparked massive divides between officials with Cuomo condemning the incident while Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown seemingly lashed out at the elderly protester. 

Brown appeared to defend the actions of the officers in his Friday press conference – less than 24 hours after he had suspended them without pay. 

He branded 75-year-old Gugino an ‘agitator’ who tried to work up the crowd and said he had been asked to leave the area ‘numerous’ times. 

‘What we were informed of is that that individual was an agitator. He was trying to spark up the crowd of people. Those people were there into the darkness. Our concern is when it gets dark, there is a potential for violence,’ Brown said. 

‘There has been vandalism, there have been fires set, there have been stores broken into and looted. According to what was reported to me, that individual was a key major instigator of people engaging in those activities.’   

The mayor said he would not call for the two officers to be fired amid the ongoing investigation, adding it was ‘very important they get due process.’  

He also addressed the police department’s initial statement on the incident which said Gugino had ‘tripped and fell.’

‘I will be the first to say that initial communication was an error, but it was a desire to respond to media inquiries really quickly and to provide information to the community quickly,’ he said. 

Standing up to oppression and state violence

After video footage of the incident emerged, Brown said officials corrected their statement and took immediate action.

Two cops have since spoken out saying that claims they resigned in solidarity with McCabe and Torgalski are untrue and that they – and several colleagues – actually made the decision because the union said it would not legally back the officers. 

‘I don’t understand why the union said it’s a thing of solidarity. I think it sends the wrong message that ‘we’re backing our own’ and that’s not the case,’ one anonymous officer told 7 Eyewitness News.   

‘We quit because our union said [they] aren’t legally backing us anymore. So why would we stand on a line for the City with no legal backing if something [were to] happen? Has nothing to do with us supporting,’ said another. 

‘Some of them probably resigned because they support the officer,’ said another cop. ‘But, for many of us, that’s not true.’  

Gugino’s friend Terrence Bisson told Buffalo News Friday the 75-year-old is a peaceful activist who has campaigned against several issues including nuclear disarmament, the detainment of migrant children, climate change and Guantanamo Bay.

Bisson said the elderly man, who has a YouTube channel where he discusses such issues, would ‘never resist physically any kind of orders’. 

‘He’s a gentle person who really believes that he must stand up for what he thinks is right,’ he said.

‘That’s why he went to the demonstration. He would never resist physically any kind of orders,’ Bisson said. ‘He’s a bit frail, not because of his age. He has some health problems.’ 

Thursday night’s episode has further galvanized protesters who continue to gather across the US demanding an end to police brutality and excessive use of force following the death of George Floyd in police custody last week.

The discord follows rising discontent amongst the population seething at their lack of social and economic mobility off the back of record unemployment not last seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s while the elites continue to prosper, as both Republicans and Democrats continue to accommodate the mandates of an oligarchic cabal, using state force when necessary to maintain their ‘clientele’ dominance.