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Buffalo shooting: Grieving community says attack highlights 'disdain for Black lives'

Residents say white supremacist attack that left 10 people dead comes from deep-rooted prejudice against Black people
Mourners support each other while visiting a makeshift memorial outside of Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on 15 May 2022 (AFP/Scott Olson)

Myles Carter was only a few blocks away from the Buffalo, New York, supermarket when he was alerted that there was a mass shooting underway.

The gunman reportedly began firing his weapon in the car park of a Tops supermarket before entering the store and continuing his murderous rampage inside, while live-streaming the attack.

At least 10 people were killed, including a pensioner, a former policeman and a grandmother.

Carter, a Black Muslim activist who has lived in Buffalo all of his life, would later find out that an 18-year-old white supremacist travelled some 200 miles across the US to carry out the attack in a predominantly Black neighbourhood.

'People here are not only afraid, but they are angry. There is a disdain for Black lives in Buffalo'

- Myles Carter, activist

The attacker had recently published a 180-page manifesto which was inspired by the 2019 Christchurch attack where 51 people were gunned down at two mosques.

In the manifesto, the gunman, now identified as Payton Gendron, wrote of his desire to "kill as many Blacks as possible" and his belief in the "great replacement theory", which claims that white people are at risk of losing their status and traditional culture because of immigrants.

The attacker also explained that while he wished to attack more racial groups, he could only choose one.

"It's a travesty. The loss of life is tremendous. Ten people. You're talking about grandmas and aunties. Community staples. It wasn't just one. It was ten. And in one day," Carter told Middle East Eye. 

"Black Buffalo is on Jefferson Avenue [where Tops supermarket is located]. One of the busiest Black-owned coffee shops is across the street. The Black newspaper is four doors away and is right next to the theatre which is Black-run. This is Black Buffalo. This is clearly racism. This is white supremacy."

'Hurts to the core'

Since the attack, city officials have said the killings were racially motivated, with the FBI investigating the massacre as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism.

US President Joe Biden arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday to "grieve" with the community and called the attack "straightforward terrorism".

"Hate will not prevail. White supremacy will not have the last word," he said during a speech at a Buffalo community centre.

For Rene Petties-Jones, president of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York, an organisation which works to combat hate, the tight-knit Black community was full of anger over how the killings were initially viewed.

"I'm a part of this community. It hurt to the core to know that there were innocent victims that had no idea that this was coming their way," she told MEE.

"It hurt to see the lack of support initially on social media when people just said: 'Oh, it's just another Black street gang killing one another'. It hurt to know that there wasn't that immediate support of saying these are innocent lives no matter what colour they were."

According to the US Census Bureau, the ZIP code that includes the supermarket is around 78 percent Black, the highest percentage of Black people in any ZIP code in upstate New York.

A 2018 report by the Partnership for the Public Good found that Buffalo had a history of segregation, with the Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area ranked the sixth most segregated area in the country.

Of all the people who identify as Black in Buffalo, about 85 percent happen to live east of Main Street, the report notes. In Buffalo, there are also 51 Census Block Groups (a geographical unit used by the US Census Bureau) that have limited access to supermarkets. All of them are located east of Main Street - like the Tops supermarket.

"While racial segregation has declined slightly in recent years, economic segregation has increased, resulting in neighbourhood conditions growing worse - not better - for most people of colour in the region," the report said.

"Segregation imposes a wide range of costs on people of colour, impairing their health, education, job access, and wealth. Individuals living in segregated neighbourhoods tend to have less access to services that allow adequate standards of living, and their economic mobility is severely impaired."

'Disdain for Black lives'

For Carter, the violence at the supermarket stemmed from a deep-rooted prejudice against Black people and should not be viewed as an isolated event.

According to Buffalo News, a local news outlet, multiple Black men have been shot by Buffalo police in the last few years, as officers tried to get them to surrender.

"It's just like Minneapolis, where the police sit at the borders of the city and pull you over as soon as you cross into one of the suburban areas. They pull you over, three cop cars behind you," Carter said.

"People here are not only afraid, but they are angry. There is a disdain for Black lives in Buffalo. It's so racist.

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"There is disdain for Black people by law enforcement, by government, by everything in Buffalo, and that emboldened someone to drive 200 miles here to commit this type of crime. Because he felt like he could get away with it."

Mobashra Tazamal, associate director at The Bridge Initiative, told MEE that "the latest massacre demonstrates the growing danger of white supremacist violence in the US".

"In the US, media networks... have framed Black people, Muslims and immigrants of colour as a threat.

"We cannot disconnect this act of violence from the mainstreaming of this racist, Islamophobic, and antisemitic conspiracy theory that's been promoted by individuals and networks with massive platforms."

So far, groups from all faiths have rushed to help the victims' families, with the Jami Masjid of Buffalo offering counselling services and raising over $15,000 to support those affected.

"It's in times like these that we really feel like we need to work together to heal and support each other," a spokesperson for the mosque told MEE.

"That Tops grocery store is the only supermarket in the area. You'd have to drive out of Buffalo into neighbouring suburb Cheektowaga to find the next one. Most of us have shopped there or know someone who has shopped there. So an attack like this feels personal on a lot of levels."