You may have seen the footage of Martin Gugino—a 75-year-old peaceful protester—being shoved to the ground by police in Buffalo.
Or, if you prefer the perspective of President Trump and associated right-wing conspiracy theorists: an Antifa provocateur who was harassing the police and trying to sabotage their equipment before deliberately falling "harder than he was pushed," cracking his skull on the sidewalk, and (intentionally?!) bleeding from the ear.
Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after… https://t.co/aFgYc1MCfD— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1591706079.0
Setting aside the absurd notion that a man in his mid-70s—no matter how passionate and impressive a figure—would exaggerate his fall and risk permanent brain damage when a burly police officers 40 years his junior suddenly and forcefully shoves his chest, it's worth looking into who this man is. Is it possible that he is—as Donald Trump posed in a Tweet Tuesday morning—a member of "ANTIFA" (whom Trump has attempted to designate a "terrorist organization") sent to make the Buffalo police look bad? Or is Martin Gugino a gentle man of principle who was brutally assaulted and sent to the hospital in an incident that further exposed the hostility of police forces to the communities they "serve" and their pathological resistance to accountability? Spoiler alert: It's the second one.
Then again, I'm just a stranger on the Internet. Why would you believe me over the President of the United States parroting his favorite ass-kissing, propaganda network? Fortunately, you don't have to. In the difficult choice between a known liar who has never met Martin Gugino and a random stranger who has never met Martin Gugino, there exists a secret third option—people who actually know him:
Terrence Bisson, a mathematics professor at Canisius College, first met Gugino at a demonstration at Buffalo City Hall around 10 years ago. The two have since volunteered together at the Western New York Peace Center, where Gugino served as Treasurer and Bisson as chair on the Latin American Solidarity Committee—whose members are "committed to non-violent civil disobedience." Bisson describes Gugino as "funny and gentle" and says, "He'd never shout or oppose someone. He would ask questions if he thought something was not right."
While some observers have tried to find a provocation in the way Gugino stood in front of police, those individuals seem to have had an obstructed view of events (watching, as it turns out, from inside their own a**holes), and Bisson rejects the idea outright, saying that Gugino "is the last person you would want to push down; he's the kind of person who you would want to speak up."
Mark Colville, who founded the Amistad Catholic Worker house in New Haven Connecticut has likewise known Gugino for years and describes him as "shy and reserved," saying, "He likes his privacy. He doesn't make a spectacle of himself. He likes to show up and be present. He likes to be involved in these movements for justice. But he doesn't do it in a self-promoting kind of way."
Tom Casey, a Buffalo coordinator for Pax Christi—an international Catholic peace movement—dismissed the idea of Gugino as a provocateur, claiming, "I have never heard him use a vile or angry word against anybody and I spent a lot of time talking to him." Then again, this account is contradicted by Mary Anne Grady Flores, an anti-drone warfare activist who describes Gugino as "a gentle giant, who is so articulate, so thoughtful." Oh wait, not contradicted. The opposite of that.
Kinda surreal when the President starts accusing your 75 yr old friend of being an agent of ANTIFA. My friend Mart… https://t.co/NDVSwLXigv— keithgiles (@keithgiles)1591712208.0
In short, Martin Gugino, a retired computer programmer who has lived alone since the death of his mother, is a devout Catholic, a passionate peace activist, and probably not someone who conspires to be grievously injured on film or to "black out" police equipment with his cell phone—if that was even possible. You can disagree with his politics (especially if you suck, are racist, or love being ruled over by narcissistic billionaires), but you can't misrepresent him as something he's not.
He's not a provocateur, a terrorist, or even someone associated with the tactics or organizations indicated by the label Antifa. He was not—as Buffalo mayor Byron Brown has claimed—any more so than any passionate protester trying to agitate for meaningful reform. He did not provoke the police who shoved him, or "fall harder than he was pushed," nor did he "slip"—as one police union president claimed. He was peacefully participating in protests against police brutality following the horrific murder of George Floyd. He was standing in the way while Buffalo PD officers set out to clear Niagara Square, so he was pushed with enough force to send him sprawling against the sidewalk where he cracked his skull, bled from his ear, and was left lying motionless as police officers moved on.
Martin Gugino (right) at a protest following the killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice by police
The fact that 57 other police officers stepped down from their positions in protest of the idea that the officers responsible for that violence should be punished only reveals how entrenched and dangerous police unity is for communities who would seek to hold them accountable. And the fact that Donald Trump would magnify a conspiracy theory about Gugino serves as a reminder of how callous and instinctually authoritarian he is—with no regard for how this "shy and reserved" man who "likes his privacy" might be affected by the attention and no concern for the fact that his followers often follow up tweets like this with death threats.
When reached for comment by USA Today, Gugino responded to his assault at the hands of the police with a simple tweet: "No comment other than Black lives matter. Just out of the ICU. Should recover eventually. Thx."