Nine people arrested in afternoon protest in Downtown Buffalo
A large protest convened in downtown Buffalo on Thursday afternoon to deliver a message to Congressional leaders and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): close the detention camps on the United States’ southern border immediately. The crowd gathered outside the local office of DHS at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street, and at one point blocked traffic on Delaware Avenue as part of the demonstration. Nine people were arrested by the Buffalo Police.
The coalition behind the protest includes members of the Buffalo chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Justice for Migrant Families WNY, and the New York Immigration Coalition. Families, including children, attended the event, which is linked to protests going on across the country. Organizers were also in touch and coordinating with Never Again Action, a Jewish organization responsible for carrying out protests and direct action in multiple states.
“We are here to demand action from our leaders,” stated Rachel Ablow, one of the protest organizers. “As an American Jew,” Ablow continuted, “I am horrified to see history repeating itself and feel compelled to join many others, including Holocaust survivors, in demanding the closure of the camps. We cannot stand by while families are separated, children die alone, and people are dehumanized.”
Protesters specifically called on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to take action, citing DHS’ own internal report on the condition of its camp as evidence enough for closure. Prior to the event, a smaller group of protesters visited Schumer’s local office, occupying the office and reading a list of demands for the Minority Leader. “The Department of Homeland Security visited these camps in June and released a report calling the condition ‘dangerous’ and ‘a ticking time bomb,’” said Jennifer Connor, an organizer of the protest and Executive Director of Justice for Migrant Families. Connor continued, “We demand that DHS acts immediately on the advice of its inspector general and close the camps today, and that Congressional Leaders like Senator Schumer do everything in their power to see it happen.”
Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein addressed the crowd and recalled his own family’s history. Said Lazarus-Klein, “The America I know is a beacon to the oppressed…That was true when my great grandparents fled Russia at the turn of the 20th Century, and when my wife’s grandparents fled the Nazis a generation later.” He added, “To see the conditions our own government has kept people in along the border is horrifying and reminiscent of what my own family endured in places where they lived before they arrived. The time calls on us to speak out. I do so not only as a rabbi and as a Jew, but as American.”
Other speakers touched on America’s history as well. Participant India Walton reminded the assembled of the United States past and implored current citizens to come together, stating, “This nation’s legacy of separating families is intolerable and a stain on our collective history.” Walton continued, “Human beings do not belong in cages. In this moment, let us strengthen our coalitions and leave no injustice undone.”
A smaller group of protesters from within the event blocked traffic on Delaware Avenue in an effort to bring attention and urgency to their message. Two longtime activists from Trumansburg, Sandra Steingraber and Colleen Boland, joined the traffic block. Steingraber, who is a 59-year old biologist and author, stated, “I’m risking arrest today because I’m a biologist who knows that climate change causes crop failures that turn farmers into refugees. I’m risking arrest today because my father fought Nazis in Europe and taught me not to be a good German. I’m risking arrest today because I’m a mother who knows that children are not criminals.”
Boland, a 63-year-old veteran, explained her participation: “While serving in the Army and the Air Force, I traveled to many countries with egregious human rights abuses. These images are forever seared in my mind. And as a veteran, I now see the same images here at home? Shame on our political leaders for allowing inhumane detention camps within our borders. Enough.”
The event included families and children, many of whom were dismayed by the descriptions of family separation and child abuse. Protester Whitney Crispell stated, “As a mother, it’s been difficult to see the images of children detained and suffering, and not think of my own. I am here today because there is no reason–none, whatsoever–that families and children should be treated this inhumanely.”
Another parent in attendance, and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, Derek Seidman, said his participation was linked to his identity as a father and a Jew. “We have to call attention to the horrors happening in our country as well as the local leaders and businesses contributing to it,” Seidman stated. “Never Again is now, and we demand the closure of the camps.”