Hundreds of Trump protesters line up in downtown Buffalo
Students express safety concerns regarding protests outside First Niagara Center
Three minutes into his Monday night speech at First Niagara Center, presidential candidate Donald Trump muttered, “get ‘em outta here.”
One by one, Buffalo Police dragged out 21 protesters by their arms and legs. Some of them offered up lewd gestures, while others entwined fingers to form a heart.
Outside the arena, close to 700 protesters held signs with slogans like, “Love Trumps Hate,” “No Racism in Buffalo,” “No to Fascist Trump,” “Buffalo Says No to Islamophobia.” The protesters started to crowd behind police barricades at 10 a.m. for the 7 p.m. rally, which attracted 11,400, according to police.
Protesters stayed past 10 p.m. Police used loudspeakers to tell protesters that they had to stay outside and that anyone protesting inside would be removed.
Most protesters were under 35 and included a mix of whites, blacks and Latinos. The crowd inside was almost all white. In one section of the stadium that held close to 500 people, the only black person was a security guard.
Alex Sityar, a senior clinical psychology major, is Latino and said the lack of diversity was “unsettling” and “unnerving.” He started protesting at 1 p.m. by joining in chants. Later, when he went into the rally, he said Trump supporters – who had not seen him protesting – stared him down and murmured “Trump 2016,” as he walked past.
“It’s upsetting,” Sityar said. “You shouldn’t feel unsafe in any town, anywhere. This is America. There’s always that potential danger.”
Sityar supports Bernie Sanders, but – like many students interviewed – went to the Trump rally out of curiosity.
Police arrested six protesters outside the area, mainly for disorderly conduct and trespassing, according Buffalo Police. No one inside the arena was arrested, police said.
Jacob Pleskach, a senior international studies major, said he attended the rally with Sityar to protest Trump’s “harmful” policies and “rhetoric that is aggressive and is threating to our rights.”
Pleskach said the Trump rally differed from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ rally at UB’s Alumni Arena on April 11. No one protested the Sanders rally and students stood outside for hours waiting to get in.
“The atmosphere at the Bernie rally was much happier,” said Pleskach, who is a Sanders supporter. “It seemed like a community rather than what this is.”
Colin Slager, a senior at Orchard Park High School and a Trump supporter, said the protesters at Trump’s rally were causing unnecessary trouble. He pointed out that Trump supporters didn’t protest Sanders’ speech.
“And [protesters] are supposed to be the peaceful ones,” Slager said. “That’s not true when they’re here shouting obscene things when we’re at our rally.”
Some Trump supporters arrived early and had to walk in front of the barricaded protesters in order to get close to the First Niagara Center. Some of the interactions were peaceful, but many grew heated with people on both sides shouting lewd epithets at each other and making obscene hand gestures.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Haleigh Morgan, a freshman English major, who went just to see the protesting. “But I didn’t expect to walk down the street and see a plethora of T-shirts and buttons saying ‘Hillary sucks,’ ‘Hillary should go to prison,’ ‘Trump for eight years.’”
Forrest Wlodarczyk, a junior media studies major, said the arrests and violence at Trump rallies around the country made him lose respect for Trump’s supporters.
“To have any political action in this country, you need to come together as a group,” Wlodarczyk said. “Even if coming out here doesn’t persuade his followers not to vote for him, maybe, at the end of the day, they could learn something through us - through peaceful protesting - contrary to how supporters act at [Trump’s] rallies.”
Jordan Grossman is special to The Spectrum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org