In the summer of 1968, a group of anti-war protesters centred on the University of Buffalo in New York State began to engage in draft resistance. Fearing arrest, a number of them sought sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Avenue. They remained for twelve days attracting a group of supporters, while the Unitarian minister mediated between the activists and the F.B.I agents, U.S. Marshals and city police who surrounded the building.

The mediation failed: on 19th August the Federal Marshall’s stormed the church, which they forcefully cleared using blackjacks (or according to some accounts, chains), making eight arrests on charges including draft evasion and assault on federal officers. Those arrested were William Berry, Bruce Beyer, and Bruce Cline of the Buffalo Draft Resistance Union; Vietnam veterans Ray Malak, James McGlynn and Thomas O’Connell; Carl Kroneberg of the Peace and Freedom Party; and Jerry Gross, Chairman of Youth Against War and Fascism. Following an investigation, they later also arrested Bill Yates, an organiser for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

In February 1969, the first federal trial of the nine began in a U.S. Courthouse besieged by protesters from the University of Buffalo and elsewhere. After the judge sentenced Beyer to three years imprisonment the nine became a cause célèbre on campus attracting even more support from students and faculty members. A group of students formed the Buffalo Nine Defence Committee and published a newsletter, Liberated Community News, the offices of which were violently raided by the city police much to the disgust of the ACLU. The inability of the jury to reach a verdict on the other defendants’ cases necessitated another trial, which became a political circus. Berry, Malak and Yates gave raised fist salutes when introduced and, in contempt of court, Malak and Yates remained seated when the judge left for a recess, actions that probably played a part in their convictions and sentences of three years each. Berry and Kroneberg were acquitted, and the government decided to drop Gross’ case after the jury, again, couldn’t reach a verdict.

The Buffalonian website hosts a reprint of a 1977 article by Elwin H. Powell, Promoting the Decline of the Rising State, a personal reflection on the anti-war protest movements in the city between 1965-76.

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