Late on Tuesday, February 7 Buffalo Police killed Wardel “Meech” Davis. The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) and the Policemen’s Benevolent Association have already begun the work of justifying this killing in the public mind. According to their story, Meech physically resisted officers who stopped him because they deemed him suspicious. Once he was handcuffed, they claim, they realized that he was unconscious and began to administer CPR. Unfortunately, we will never hear Meech’s account – because they have killed him.
According to the police, Meech was in “an area known for heavy drug traffic.” However, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of individuals to “assemble” and move as they please. In order to detain an individual, police must have “reasonable suspicion” that links the person to a crime. They must be able to articulate some fact or evidence suggesting that the individual in question may have been involved in criminal activity. Neither prior criminal activity nor simply being on the street in a particular area is evidence of commission of a crime. It seems likely to us that Meech was illegally detained – the BPD is known to practice unconstitutional “Stop and Frisk” policing, many people on the West Side are routinely harassed, and the story offered by BPD does not suggest that he was suspected of any particular crime.
Regardless of whether Meech had committed a crime or struggled against police, neither is an offence legally punishable by death and the BPD must not be allowed to act as judge, jury, and executioner. We must not allow so-called “suspicion” to carry a death sentence. And we know all too well what this “suspicion” means: Meech was a young black man in a racist society that believes that young black men are inherently dangerous and criminal. Police say they are waiting on an autopsy, but we don’t need an autopsy to know what killed him. If he had not been stopped for “suspicion,” he would still be alive.
For now, we do not know the immediate cause of death. But one thing we know for sure is that Buffalo is not immune to the problems that plague the rest of the country. According to the Washington Post, police in the United States killed 963 people in 2016. Black men were nearly three times more likely to be killed than their white counterparts. These killings show that the outrageous repression responsible for a system of mass incarceration that imprisons nearly one of every one hundred American citizens – and an unacceptable number of non-citizen residents, as well – has brutal, murderous consequences on the streets as well. And they demonstrate unequivocally the racism at the heart of the American “justice” system.
All too often in this society, being a black person carries a death sentence. Nearly every institution is set up to destroy the black body and undermine black dignity. In contrast, we say that #BlackLivesMatter! We say that Meech’s life mattered! We demand a full and transparent investigation. We demand prosecution of the officers who killed Meech. We demand a society that doesn’t treat the rights of people of color as optional privileges to be doled out at the whim of police. We demand a world in which #BlackLivesMatter!