“Whether it is a White supremacist, or someone suffering from a different mental illness, the fact that they can acquire assault weapons, guns, and ammunition with ease is unacceptable. As my prayers are with those devastated by these senseless acts of violence, my resolve is to work on comprehensive gun control to protect us from further heartache.”
—California State Representative Reginald Jones Sawyer, 59th Assembly District.
America’s ongoing struggle with race added another, grisly episode this past weekend when 18-year-old Payton Gendron sprayed the parking lot and interior of a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y. with an assault rifle. In short order, he killed 10 people and wounded three, ranging in age from 32 to 86 years old, before surrendering to police.
The bloodbath was quickly reported by media and news outlets throughout the globe, as the shooter’s background was scrutinized to ascertain the motivation for such a malicious attack.
A measured response
President of the United States (POTUS) Joseph R. Biden was quickly apprised of the situation, and arrangements were made to fly into Buffalo to console the community. On the same day of the tragedy, the White House released a statement which touched upon some of the same issues that propelled his 2020 campaign into the Oval Office.
“We still need to learn more about the motivation for today’s shooting as law enforcement does its work, but we don’t need anything else to state a clear moral truth: A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation,” it reads. “Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant White nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America. Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”
Biden arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday in the company of his wife, first lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Jill Biden. The couple visited a hastily fabricated memorial across from the supermarket, where the First Lady placed a bouquet of white flowers. Her husband, a devout Catholic made the sigh of the cross as they shared a moment of silence.
Later at a neighborhood community center, the Bidens and New York Governor Kathy Hochu met with victims’ families, local officials and first responders, where the President reiterated his opposition to the extremism he has confronted since his first day in office.
“White supremacy is a poison,” he declared.
“It’s a poison running through our body politic, and it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes,” Biden continued. “No more. I mean no more. We need to say as clearly and forcefully as we can that the ideology of White supremacy has no place in America.”
Upon their return to the White House, the Bidens hosted a reception honoring Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
There, Vice President Kamala Harris continued the theme of diversity and inclusion to drive home the point.
“Racism is real in America. It has always been. Xenophobia is real in America. It has always been. Sexism, too,” she said. “We must do everything in our power to end this epidemic of hate.”
Faces in the crowd
Grocery shopping is a mundane activity that transcends culture or ethnicity. For some folks who decided to visit Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, May 14, it was the last act they would do. Below are the names and brief biographies of these unfortunates:
Celestine “Stiney” Chaney, 65, a grandmother to six. She was in the company of her sister (who found refuge in a freezer) when the shooting began. She’d been there to pick up strawberry shortcakes for her son, who normally accompanied her. Her son reportedly found out about his mother’s fate when the gunman live streamed the event on Twitter.
Roberta “Berta” or “Robbie” Drury, 32. A fan of songstress Whitney Houston, she was a native of Syracuse. She’d overcome substance abuse, and moved into the area to support her older brother, who suffered from leukemia.
Andre Mackniel, 53, of Auburn, N.Y. He was in town visiting his fiancee, and had gone to Tops to pick out a birthday cake for their three-year-old son. The child met and was embraced by President Biden at a memorial for the victims on May 17.
Katherine “Kat” Massey, 72. A pillar of the community and grassroots organizer, she ironically had petitioned local and federal authorities to stem the trafficking of illegal handguns. Plans are underway to name the street where she grew up in her honor.
Margus Morrison, 52. A school bus aide who’d previously worked as a security guard, he’d gone to the store to pick up food for the family’s weekly movie night on Saturday evening.
Heyward Patterson, 67. A deacon at The State Tabernacle Church of God, he helped clean the church every Saturday, along with helping in the soup kitchen. He was at Tops as he customarily provided transportation for customers needing a ride home.
Aaron Salter, 55, from Lockport, N.Y. A retired policeman and Tops security guard, he confronted the gunman in the store by firing at him. His ammo failed to pierce the body armor Gendron was wearing, but Salter none-the-less is considered a hero for preventing more carnage.
Geraldine Talley, 62, was a counselor whose clientele included patients with substance abuse and mental health issues. She was in the store with her fiancé Gregory Allen, who survived the massacre.
Ruth Whitfield, 86, habitually visited her husband of 68 years at the nursing home where he’d been living over the past few years. Their union was blessed with four children, including former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield. Initial reports say her family has retained an attorney to seek legal action for the death of their mother, grandmother and wife. At this writing, her husband reportedly has not been informed of his wife’s demise.
Pearl Young, 77. A Sunday school teacher who ran a food pantry, Young generally frequented another market in another part of the city. A native of Alabama, she was in the store after lunching with her sister-in-law. Her son arrived at Tops to pick her up when he learned of her demise.
“We lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm — the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others.”
— From “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee
Preliminary inquiries into the persona of Gendron indicate he was a White supremacy advocate who regularly trolled the internet, where he was indoctrinated in the rhetoric of that mentality. Just over a year ago, these beliefs were explored in the pages of Our Weekly (see “America on rewind,” from March 11, 2021).
Disenfranchisement among White males during the late 20th-century seems to be the bedrock of this malady. The aftermath of the Vietnam War eroded the myth of American invincibility, coupled with social progress advancing the status of the previously marginalized segments of society fed into the subconscious belief that in McGhee’s words “…progress for some of us must come at the expense of others.”
Technological advancements have provided an avenue for distribution of these beliefs. Gendron, too young to personally experience the events sowing the seeds of dissent, nonetheless was an impressionable vessel for the propagation of these ideas via electronic media.
Scholars such as Kathleen Bellew (University of Chicago), Kenneth S. Stern (Bard College), and Cal State University San Bernardino’s Brian Levin have slanted their academic focus on this phenomenon.
As the dust clears from this most recent tragedy, both sides of the political divide have mounted their own ideological spins on these proceedings. Chief among them is Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, whose agenda was established well before Gendron set out on his murderous rampage. Carlson believes liberal interests will utilize such tragedies to promote their own, ulterior motives.
“The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” he proclaimed in 2021.
Alternatively, the Rev. Al Sharpton suggested his own cathartic remedy: “We need to set a national strategy on how we deal with hate and how we hold those accountable [who] in any way advance what happened in Buffalo,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“It (the Buffalo shootings) didn’t just drop out the sky. It happened because it was methodically organized.”