Until this week, I was anesthetized to endless televised videos showing police brutalizing young, African American men.
Then, on Friday, I turned on the television news. I saw a 75-year-old white guy named Martin Gugino brutally jostled backwards by a couple of menacing cops during a peaceful protest in Buffalo, N.Y. They were identified as officers Aaron Torglaski and Robert McCabe and they were charged with second-degree assault during their video arraignments on Saturday. Both entered not guilty pleas and are expected back in court on July 20.
Gugino, a peace activist, fell and hit his head on the concrete pavement. He was bleeding from the ear and suffered a concussion. As he lay unconscious on the ground, about a dozen other police officers – dressed in black riot gear – marched right past him, showing no sympathy or willingness to help.
In no way, did the injured man threaten the police. He was using his American Constitutional privilege to peacefully protest. And it cost him a concussion and a threat to his life.
Such is the price of freedom these days. He was taken to the hospital in “serious” condition. The initial police report said the man was injured in a “scuffle” and “tripped” and fell.
Those lies are nothing new. In America today, truth is the first victim of state-sanctioned violence. And to make matters worse, all this happened in my hometown of Buffalo.
Suddenly, police violence and victimization didn’t seem so far away and was no longer only about them. It hit home with me because it was about us – old white people.
You know us. We live in The Villages. We survived the ’60s. We drive our golf carts and wave our flags. We listen to oldies and dance in the squares. We worked hard all our lives and we’re going to have fun. Life around here is one big party.
But, as many say, The Villages can be a bubble – a shelter from the pain, suffering and violence in the real world. So, names like George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Breonna Taylor mean little to us.
They are them.
Until Buffalo police roughed up that old white guy. Maybe, for the first time, I’m starting to understand how black people feel when they watch a video of an African American being clubbed or killed by a cop. It took a horrific, inhumane act by Buffalo cops to show me where sympathy stops and empathy begins.
Listen, I’d rather sit out these troubled days and pass the time drinking beer or playing pickleball. But the darkness of the present keeps taking me back to a darker past.
The year was 1968. I still remember when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. I still remember the night Bobby Kennedy was shot. I still remember fires blazing in the sky over the riot-torn streets of Buffalo. I still remember going to the funeral of my friend Joey, who died in Vietnam.
It all seems so long ago. And yet, here I am now, watching my country being torn apart once more.
When we were young, our generation welcomed the challenge. But we’re old now and it’s harder and, in many ways, it hurts more.
How many times do we have to keep learning the same lesson?
“How many deaths will it take, till we learn that too many people have died,” Bob Dylan sang. “How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t,” Bobby Kennedy said. “And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.”
“Don’t punish me with brutality,” Marvin Gaye sang. “Talk to me, so you can see. What’s going on.”
“Imagine all the people, living life in peace,” John Lennon said.
And so here we are – right back where we started from.
In 2020, I have no nostalgia for 1968. I don’t want to relive the past. I don’t want to see videos of George Floyd or the old man in Buffalo. But I can’t close my eyes to violence, discord, discrimination and injustice.
It’s time to end this American nightmare and dream of something better. It’s time that old and young, black and white and everyone else in this country made a commitment to live up to our heritage.
It’s time to end the nightmare and start to dream.
“I have a dream,” King said, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
Tony Violanti is an award-winning journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.