There is no shock, only numbness. No fury, only resignation.
Emotionally, that’s where I’ve been since 10 African Americans were marked for death last week in Buffalo, New York. Ten African Americans minding their own business, engaged in the mundane activities at a grocery store on a Saturday afternoon before 18-year-old Payton Gendron allegedly decided to take their lives. Dressed in combat protective gear, and armed with an assault rifle, police say he made the Tops Friendly Markets grocery store a killing field — shooting four customers in the parking lot of the grocery store, moving inside to shoot nine more. Two whites were caught in the crossfire. This was no random act. Investigators have ascertained that he knew East Buffalo was a predominantly Black neighborhood, and that he had surveyed the area and the grocery store months before.
Gendron has been charged with first-degree murder, but the FBI confirmed it’s also investigating the murderous attack as a hate crime. That’s significant — there was much debate before a Georgia prosecutor sought a hate crime designation for the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead, six of them Asians. And in the wake of the 2015 killings of nine Black members inside Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, it took weeks before the gunman was charged with a hate crime. Even though shooter Dylann Roof confessed when arrested that he planned the murders hoping to start a race war.
I’m so very tired of talking about Black people as targets of misplaced rage, so weary of telling the story of a radicalized white supremacist caught up in a fever of righteousness. Gendron allegedly wrote a 180-page diatribe describing himself as a white supremacist and a believer of the once-fringe conspiracy that white people are being replaced with immigrants, or Black or Jewish Americans. The accused apparently spent months ginned up by online white supremacist groups promoting this grievance rhetoric. Winthrop, Mass., resident Nathan Allen was allegedly radicalized in the same way. Allen’s racially targeted shooting spree last June began when he stole a white box truck, crashed and jumped off the mangled vehicle, loaded guns in hand. He deliberately bypassed whites and instead aimed his gun at two local African Americans — retired Massachusetts State Police trooper David Green and Air Force veteran Ramona Cooper.
I don’t have to wonder if there are more Allens and Gendrons out there; FBI Director Christopher Wray already warned Congress earlier this year that, “Racially motivated violent extremism — specifically of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the white race — is a persistent, evolving threat.” Payton Gendron is no longer an evolving threat.
For now, East Buffalo neighbors are holding up the stories of the people the suspect left to die among parked cars and grocery aisles, insisting that their lives not be reduced to a violent episode. One of the 10 victims, Ruth Whitfield, was at the grocery store after visiting her husband in the nursing home. Beloved grandmother and mother of the former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield, Jr. Whitfield, Jr. cried as he spoke at a press conference, saying, “This is not just some story to drive the news cycle. … This is our mother, this is our lives.”
So, another entry is added to the blood diary of racial violence, as another grieving community struggles to heal from the nation’s festering wound of racism. My heart is heavy.
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