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)

Topics: Justice | Human Rights

Martin Gugino is Catholic activist, not Antifa, friends say

The 75-year-old Catholic activist was shoved to the ground by Buffalo, N.Y. police last week

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(RNS) — Is Martin Gugino an Antifa provocateur?

Or a beloved Catholic peace activist who was the victim of police brutality in Buffalo, N.Y.?

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, Conn., 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.

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.

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.

Gugino is active in Witness Against Torture, an organization formed in 2005 to protest the treatment of detainees on the base. Each January, group members travel to Washington, D.C., to fast and hold vigil outside the Department of Justice.

Much of the work was done on behalf of Muslim prisoners, many of whom were picked up by the CIA and taken to Guantanamo after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes.

“People, including Martin, made connections between their own faith and the faith of people detained because of their own faith,” said Matt Daloisio, a New York state public defender and one of the organizers of Witness Against Torture.

Daloisio and several others say they’ve been texting Gugino in the hospital and he’s been responding with emoji hearts rather than texts.

Gugino’s Twitter account and YouTube videos have been deactivated. He is represented by lawyer Kelly Zarcone, who said Tuesday:  “We are at a loss to understand why the President of the United States would make such dark, dangerous, and untrue accusations against him.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted in response to Trump that “there’s no greater sin than the abuse of power,” and Biden mentioned that he, like Gugino, is a Catholic.

Tom Casey, a retired civil engineer from Buffalo and a local coordinator for Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement, said the idea that Gugino is a provocateur is ludicrous. Gugino was certainly opinionated, Casey said, but always respectful of others.

“I have never heard him use a vile or angry word against anybody and I spent a lot of time talking to him,” Casey said.

Gugino was also active on behalf of Black Lives Matter. After the 2014 killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy who was shot by a police officer, Gugino traveled to Cleveland to meet with Rice’s parents. In 2016, Gugino participated in a protest in front of the Justice Department in which demonstrators called for murder charges against the officer who shot Rice.

Gugino’s presence at the Black Lives Matter protest last week was typical of his activism. He is also active with the Western New York Peace Center and PUSH Buffalo, a coalition working on affordable housing.

“Martin is consistent,” said Mary Anne Grady Flores, an Ithaca New York Catholic Worker who participated with Gugino in multiple protests against Hancock Field Air Force Base’s use of remotely piloted drones to kill insurgents in Afghanistan and elsewhere. “He’s a gentle giant, who is so articulate, so thoughtful.”

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  • says:

    Something's wrong! Police and soldiers are supposed to be protectors of our society, however, since we have had the ability to photograph and, in particular, video events as they happen, it seems that non violent people should fear the police and the army as well as those who are violent. When a jaywalker (as seen in a CBC news clip) is physically beaten by police; or when the black operator of a store who is holding a gun on a potential robber is assumed to be the bad guy and is attacked by police; or when in the US the army is told to clear LaFayette Square and the soldiers have no problem bullying their fellow non violent Americans, there is a problem.
    Why would a decent human being follow such an order? What makes a police person want to beat on a handcuffed man? Then again, why do otherwise decent men and women in the USA keep kids in cages and round up non violent immigrants who are only trying to make a living?
    Do we lose our sense of humanity when we are part of a mob? Can we not stand up and say "no!" when we are ordered to do the wrong thing?
    What about the spouses of those caught on camera behaving badly. Haas anyone ever interviewed them to get their view of what their "better half" did?
    I have broken it down to one thing which some may differ with. My answer is simply a "paycheck."
    Do what you're told because if you don't you're out of a job and you won't get a recommendation for a new one.
    I know it sounds simplistic but why else do police, the military and, indeed, many people in groups behave badly.
    Maybe someone can give me some insight here.
    It's easy not to trust all the members when you're unsure who you're dealing with.

    Replies

    • says:

      You're right something's wrong.

      We once obeyed authority. Now we wonder why there are consequences when we disrespect and don't obey authority.

      When I got the strap in school, I knew why. I don't ever recall getting it without warrant. It's no different today. (Argue all you want)

      I'm ALWAYS amazed that there are cell phones everywhere when someone is arrested or confronting police. It's like cell phones know what's coming, but forgot to record what just transpired moments ago.

      Replies

      • says:

        Thanks Gary, on this you and I seem to agree. Keep up the good commentary.