Friends of Man Pushed by Police at Protest Say He is a Catholic Peace Activist, Not an Antifa Provocateur

Martin Gugino bleeds on the sidewalk after being shoved by two Buffalo police officers June 4, 2020, in Buffalo, New York. Video screengrab via WBFO

Is Martin Gugino an Antifa provocateur?

Or a beloved Catholic peace activist who was the victim of police brutality in Buffalo, New York?

A Tuesday morning (June 9) tweet from President Donald Trump suggested the former, drawing a wave of shock and outrage from friends of the 75-year-old activist who was shoved to the ground by Buffalo police during a protest last Thursday outside City Hall.

The incident, captured on video, went viral and has become symbolic of the kind of police brutality that has sparked calls for fundamental reforms to American policing. In the video, an officer is seen shoving Gugino, who falls to the sidewalk, hitting his head. As Gugino lies unmoving and bleeding, the officer who pushed him is seen hurrying away.

Gugino remains in the Erie County Medical Center in serious condition, though he is no longer in intensive care, a friend said.

Buffalo’s police commissioner suspended two Buffalo police officers involved in the incident without pay, prompting dozens of other officers to step down from the department’s crowd control unit in protest. On Saturday two of the officers were charged with felony assault.

The president referred to the conservative news site One America News Network in making his unfounded claim.

“Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur,” Trump wrote. “75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”

Friends of the retired computer scientist described Gugino as a devout Catholic and a graduate of Canisius High School, a private Jesuit school in Buffalo, who is a passionate advocate for multiple causes on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. Gugino spent his retirement lending a hand to multiple causes, among them Black Lives Matter.

“Martin has a passion for social justice,” said Mark Colville, who runs Amistad Catholic Worker  in New Haven, Connecticut, and has known Gugino for years. “When he sees wrong he wants to be involved in making it right.”

Colville said Gugino made multiple trips from his home in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst to New Haven — a six-and-a-half-hour drive — to help prepare and serve meals at Amistad, a house of hospitality that describes its mission as “follow(ing) Jesus in seeking justice for the poor.”

Gugino never wanted to draw attention to his work, Colville said. He’s a private person who lived alone. He cared for his mother until she died, and he recently lost his sister, too.

In this 2016 photo, Martin Gugino, right, holds a sign reading “Resist Racism,” in Washington, D.C., as part of a protest over the 2014 killing of Tamir Rice, an African American boy from Cleveland. Photo by Mark Colville

On Saturday, Colville drove up to Buffalo to see if he could visit his friend in the hospital. He was not allowed past the reception desk but instead did the next best thing. He went downtown to take Gugino’s place at a protest on the street where videos had captured police knocking Gugino to the ground while clearing protesters away from City Hall.

“Martin is shy and reserved,” Colville said. “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.”

The two have worked for years to advocate for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba where terrorism suspects could be detained without process.

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Source: Religion News Service