White Supremacist Attack Shone a Light on Buffalo’s Racial Segregation and Poverty

Marc H. Morial

“Racism [in Buffalo] there comes not only in the form of a teenage white supremacist murdering Black people at a grocery store. It is also evident in the policies that encourage disinvestment from public schools attended by Black students, in the annual failure to develop affordable-housing policies, and in the continued use of fees and fines that disproportionately impact Black residents.” Princeton Professor of African American Studies Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Before the nation could fully process the horror of the May 14 mass murder at a Buffalo supermarket, we were battered with the heartbreak of another, even deadlier attack at an elementary school in Texas.

Incredibly, nearly 70 Americans have died in mass shootings since the Buffalo attack. But even as we focus our energies on solving to the nation’s gun violence crisis, we cannot allow fresh tragedies to overshadow the crisis of racism and poverty that allowed the white supremacist gunman in Buffalo to target Black victims with such precision.

The Buffalo massacre was the deadliest white supremacist attack in the United States since August 2019, when a racist extremist targeting Latinos killed 23 people and injured 23 others at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.

The gunman chose Buffalo’s East Side because — due to a history of redlining and residential segregation — it has the highest concentration of Black residents in New York State outside of the New York City metropolitan area. And he knew the Tops supermarket on the East Side would be crowded with Black shoppers because — thanks to decades of neglect — it is the only supermarket in the neighborhood.

Rather, it was the only supermarket in the neighborhood. Since the shooting, the Tops has been shut down, putting further stress on an already strained community.

“Tops not only served as a grocery store, but there was a pharmacy there where the community had prescriptions filled,” Thomas Beauford, president of the Buffalo Urban League, told NBC News. “Many people would cash their paychecks there. And they used Tops to buy money orders to pay a bill. All of that’s gone.”

Beauford noted that the supermarket “didn’t have the same level of investment” as stores in Buffalo’s white neighborhoods.

“It was already inferior,” he said. “But it’s all we had.”

On Saturday, I’ll join Beauford, his staff and other community leaders in Buffalo to meet with the grieving families and discuss a plan of action to address the not only the systemic racism that has led Buffalo to this tragic moment, but the further emotional, mental and economic burden it has heaped on the Black community.

Buffalo Urban League has established a community resource center to offer trauma counseling with a diverse staff of counselors who speak seven languages. Counselors also are meeting people on the streets, circulating among vigils and gatherings, and reaching out to people in their homes. The League is helping a local food distribution center deliver groceries to nearby seniors and offering counseling at the door.

Melissa Archer, a psychiatric nurse who runs Buffalo Urban League’s NY Project Hope, said nearly 1,000 members of the community have sought counseling.

As Beauford told me, “This was not a natural disaster that struck. It had a face. It had a specific ideology. It had a specific intent to harm Black people.”

We will not allow policymakers in Washington and around the country to continue to treat systemic racism and gun violence as a natural disaster. In recognition of National Gun Safety Month, the National Urban League has engaged the faith community in our ongoing advocacy and activism with “Sound the Trumpet Sunday,” when pastors will share a message of cultural unity and encourage their communities to demand action on racial hatred and gun violence.

For more information, text TRUMPET to 52886 and follow the hashtag #SoundTheTrumpetSunday on social media.

Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.

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