by Naba’a Muhammad and William P. Muhammad
The Final Call @TheFinalCall
“We have people who are racists. We have people who don’t like us because of the color of our skin and that’s what happened today. He had nigger written on the tip of the gun and he has a manifesto. I was told, which I don’t know, that he planned on killing more people, basically going down the street, randomly shooting people,” Buffalo, N.Y. resident Cariol Horne said. She was speaking in the aftermath of a racial massacre executed by a “gleeful” Payton Gendron, who police say plotted and carried out the worst mass murder of 2022.
A mother, grandmother, anti-police brutality and community advocate, Ms. Horne was in a meeting about violence in her hometown. She left and rushed over to a Tops supermarket in the heart of the Black community after hearing about a mass shooting. Upon arrival, she saw a body lying on the ground. Then she heard the stories of loss and trauma inflicted May 14 by a White outsider, who came to town to kill Black people.
Liz Bosley, 64, a member of Most Valuable Parents of Buffalo, an organization seeking to improve relations between local public schools, parents and their children, told The Final Call she was in the same meeting as Ms. Horne when word of the shootings arrived. She joined others and rushed to the supermarket.
“I pulled up on the scene and actually saw them putting the young man in the (police) car,” Ms. Bosley said. “It was chaotic when I arrived. They were just releasing the employees and they all were coming out a back door, and the crowd got crazy because they had people in the store and didn’t know if they were let out or were in there dead. I had a childhood family friend who was killed in the store, Deacon Patterson,” she said.
Pastor Russell Bell, of Buffalo’s State Tabernacle Church, identified Ms. Bosley’s friend as Heyward Patterson, 67, describing him as a kind man who stopped at Tops supermarket to purchase additional items after helping to serve food from his church’s kitchen. “From what I understand, he was assisting somebody putting their groceries in their car when he was shot and killed,” the pastor said.
Denial of hatred of Blacks, denial of racism must end
“On a national level we need to deal with racism. We need to deal with the issue and stop sugarcoating it,” Ms. Horne said, in a telephone interview the day the killings occurred. “So many people are just trying to hide and go along to get along, instead of just dealing with the issue for what it is,” continued the onetime police officer. “Racism is not anything new, it’s something that’s been going on. And because you have Black faces in high places does not mean that we have overcome. We still doing that little song and dance as if we have overcome, and we haven’t.”
Targeted murder may be the ultimate expression of anti-Black hatred, but racism is pervasive, commented Ms. Horne. Think about the racism in police departments, discrimination in hiring and housing, bias in the courts and criminal justice system and lack of concern for Black youth, she pointed out.
Ms. Horne knew Aaron Salter, a 55-year-old recently retired Black police officer working at the supermarket as a security guard. He was shot to death by the racial terrorist, according to authorities. One woman said Mr. Salter, who confronted the military-clad and armor protected shooter, and fired his weapon to protect others, saved her daughter, recounted Ms. Horne. His shots, however, could not pierce body armor worn by the White killer who took his life.
“I worked with him and he just was a great person, very kind, mannerable, calm, mild mannered. So I was sad, once I found out that it was him that had got shot and passed away and especially saving somebody else,” Ms. Horne continued. It’s important to acknowledge good officers, she said. Ms. Horne was fired from the police force for stopping a White officer from choking a handcuffed Black suspect. After years of fighting, she won her pension. She pushed a law to require officers to intervene when a colleague is acting in a violent, illegal way.
Ms. Horne saw the horror, panic, anger of loved ones wanting to know where family members, workers, co-workers were. They were held back by police securing the crime scene. She heard the stories of those killed; a man who came from out of town and stopped by the supermarket to get charcoal for a barbeque. She knew people who worked at the supermarket.
“There was a young lady she’s about 17, 18, 19. She had just had a baby, so I didn’t know she had returned to work, but her mom also worked there. When she came out, she saw me. She just had tears rolling down her face and I just hugged her. She was saying, ‘He was right by me. He was right by me.’ This just goes into the trauma that she has to deal with for the rest of her life seeing people killed around her because of someone’s hate.
And that is the issue that we have not been dealing with,” said Ms. Horne. She noted the accused mass murderer was arrested without violence but weeks ago police drove through the community randomly shooting at a Black male they said shot at them.
“We need to wake up like yesterday,” said Ms. Horne. “You have the youth killing each other, you have the police shooting at us, and then you have a racist come into our community.”
Blacks need to stop the violence among one another, she continued. Her father, 97 years old, was a shooting victim and her son is in prison for murder, she said. She doesn’t agree with how the case against her son was handled or his sentence but there are problems Blacks need to face up to inside their own house, and outside attacks should awaken Blacks, she said.
“If another Black man kills another Black man, I think I’m just going to throw up. Like I am so sick of it. Like we don’t need help because we’re (killing) ourselves. I understand that it’s been ingrained in us and we need to change our mentality. The civil rights movement was many decades ago, and we’re still fighting that same fight?”
She argues all guns need to be banned, except weapons for military use. There needs to be a healing and recognition that the country has a deep, serious problem, she added. “It’s just time to deal with it on a national level. And I definitely want to be part of the solution, but we have to have leadership that’s going to listen and I’m not asking. I’m saying it and I’m demanding it.”
CNN reported Mr. Gendron was “gleeful” in achieving his deadly goal and disturbing in interviews according to authorities.
Dahveed Muhammad grew up in Buffalo and has served as the Nation of Islam representative in the city for 14 years. “People are feeling grief, sadness, anger. People are stunned. People are outraged. There is shock. People have mixed feelings,” he said. His comments reflected the observations of others in a city rocked by sudden, violent, premeditated murders. The raw feelings were exposed during a Sunday prayer vigil.
Letitia James, a Black woman and New York attorney general, was heckled and shouted down when she tried to speak, he said. One young activist, in particular, called her out for failing to prosecute police officers and deal with unexplained deaths at the Erie County Holding Center, Mr. Muhammad explained. “People want accountability from officials, elected officials, and organizations. There’s a great amount of dissatisfaction with elected officials, with leadership. There’s also a determination to want to try to come together and bring about some healing and unity. People are soul searching,” Mr. Muhammad said.
The tragedy just happened yesterday, he noted in a May 15 telephone interview. The names of all those lost is coming out slowly and some “very dear” people, like the mother of former fire commissioner Darnell Whitfield, are gone, said Mr. Muhammad.
Nina Johnson, 53 is a lifelong Buffalo resident. She was born and raised in the city and were it not for a last-minute rescheduled appointment, would have been across the street from Tops Friendly Markets around the time of the shooting. She has shopped there several times over the years as it is in a predominately Black area on the East Side of Buffalo.
Ms. Johnson, a retired New York state trooper told The Final Call that Black folks are in disbelief and shock but are also angry and on edge in the aftermath of the shooting. “This man has traveled all these many miles to come do this. We got a problem, and you know our people are getting mad. You know enough is enough … you done came in our inner city where we already have enough issues, to bring this? It’s just been really, really hard on everybody,” said Ms. Johnson.
She said the city is on edge and that Black residents will be monitoring the case closely. “This man traveled so many hours just to get here. Like really you had come to the inner city that’s already struggling, already got some things to be said about how we’re treated against our White counterparts? And then you bring this, and you know, that it is racially motivated. And it’s like yeah, now what are you going to do because if you didn’t know before, you know now. Now what are you going to do? I just think whatever the outcome is going to be will definitely determine how the residents, our Black residents are going to act from here moving forward,” said Ms. Johnson.
White replacement theory feeds the murder of Blacks
This was “nothing more than a hunt,” commented CNN national security analyst Juliett Kayyem as the cable network reported the accused murderer conducted recognizance on his kill site the day before the slaughter. “He’s not a lone wolf,” she stressed.
These killers have a herd, it’s found online and amplified by politicians and media hosts feeding the idea of White replacement theory, she said. They believe the pie is limited and Whites are being displaced by Blacks, which justifies the “hunt,” Ms. Kayyem explained. The herd is from Fox News to politicians who “wink and nod” but these killers and adherents know exactly what they mean, the analyst explained.
Until we recognize this as pure violence, we are just going to dance around what is going on, she warned.
The FBI warned in 2021 and 2019 of the deadly danger of White supremacists in the United States but has often been attacked and criticized for its findings. The right wing and Republican Party, in particular, have railed against the warnings, often demanding that government power be constrained and rights of free speech and gun ownership be respected.
A report came out in the early part of the last presidential administration, Melba Pearson, a former assistant state attorney in Florida’s Miami-Dade County and a prosecutor for 16 years told The Final Call. “The FBI was trying to look into and raise the alarm because of the level of information that they (kept) getting from a variety of sources. They were seeing an uptick in this and saying it was a problem and we need to address it. The FBI director was the target of a lot of ire from the last president for a number of reasons, this report being one of them,” she said.
The Buffalo shooting is part of a fallout from the last presidential administration and a greater issue facing Blacks and impacting other communities, such as Asians, immigrants and Jews, added Ms. Pearson.
“The Department of Justice definitely needs to be on the ground to investigate this case along with local law enforcement (and) it’s my understanding that it is already in progress. What we see many times is that the Department of Justice will have a parallel investigation to the local authorities,” she noted.
The speed of the alleged shooter’s arrest and arraignment was appropriate because he was caught at the scene with witnesses present, still in possession of his weapon, and talked out of committing suicide by the authorities, Ms. Pearson continued.
There is not much room for debate regarding his identity, she said.
Dr. Ron Daniels, a political scientist, activist and president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, told The Final Call the climate of anti-Black hatred in America is frightening. White nationalism is the enemy of Black people and clearly demonstrates that Black lives do not matter in the United States, he said.
“What we now see is a scenario, which in this current environment, (has) been encouraged by the open embrace of White nationalism by the previous president,” Dr. Daniels said. “He brought it clearly out into the open in a way that’s unprecedented so now you have what is called the fear of the Browning of America. There are forces that really want to keep America as a White man’s land,” Dr. Daniels insisted. “They want religious and racial purity to prevail.”
Dr. Daniels, who is based in New York, said rhetoric surrounding White replacement theory demonstrates White fears of becoming a minority population within the United States by mid-century. Policies intended to reduce Black and Brown populations while promoting the increase of White populations are driving not only politics of the far-right, but also the violence increasingly embraced by their rank-and-file, he said.
“So now, they have come out in the open,” Dr. Daniels said. “This is a warning (and) it is dangerous, but it also means that we must arm ourselves with ballots, we must arm ourselves with boycotts, we must arm ourselves with economic sanctions, with ways to defend our communities because this is serious.”
Anger, fear, pain in a small city
Like others Dahveed Muhammad was worried when he heard names of those still unaccounted for. He frantically called a comrade in the city’s culturally conscious community. He didn’t initially get a response. He was relieved when he found out the woman and her daughter were safe. They had to run for their lives during the Saturday afternoon supermarket attack.
An eyewitness to the murders, Grady Lewis, also spoke to the accused terrorist for 90 minutes the day before the massacre, Mr. Muhammad continued. “The reason why he approached him is because he didn’t fit in, he had a t-shirt on that said ‘Genius’ on it. It’s an all-Black neighborhood. The few Whites that do go to the supermarket, they kind of fit in. They may have grown up over there. This White guy looked different,” he said. The two talked about many things, including critical race theory, which has been demonized by the White right. “The guy asked him, ‘are you going to be here tomorrow?’ ”
Many suspect the 18-year-old alleged killer didn’t act alone given how far he traveled and how the neighborhood and supermarket were chosen, the Muslim student minister said. Others say the info was available on Google, he noted. Some suspect the White assailant could have been recruited, groomed and dispatched on his deadly mission, he said.
The mixed feelings include how much exposure to give the race manifesto attributed to Mr. Gendron. Some said don’t give him more notoriety, others have found and spread the manifesto and elements of his history, Mr. Muhammad observed. “Other people are saying, ‘I think it should be known how much these people hate you.’ ”
The governor, the police chief, the sheriff all called the killings, hate crimes, terrorism and people agree because there’s so much evidence of it, commented Mr. Muhammad. “A lot of times law enforcement will try to slow walk things and say, let’s not rush to judgment, but it’s just overwhelming evidence. He had the word nigger scrawled on his weapon. He had a manifesto. He had hate speech.” And, he added, video of the attack shows the gunman bypassing a White person, apologizing and moving on to kill Blacks.
“It’s not a city where a lot of these international, a lot of these same kinds of things happen. It’s a shock to us,” Mr. Muhammad said. “But Buffalo has been at the top of the list of the most racist cities in America for many years, either second or third.”
Racial problems in the country aren’t limited to a certain location, Mr. Muhammad noted. “It bears witness to what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has said. He’s been warning us. He warned us long ago, recently, consistently about the judgment of God and how we would see these kinds of things happening. The fall of America is happening at a more rapid pace. It is causing our people to at least soul search, to realize that we have to have greater unity amongst ourselves.”
Federal agents interviewed the parents of the teen suspect and served multiple search warrants, a law enforcement official said. Federal authorities were still working to confirm the authenticity of the 180-page manifesto that was posted online, which detailed the plot and identified Mr. Gendron by name as the gunman, the official said. Authorities say the shooting was motivated by racial hatred.
Payton Gendron’s parents were cooperating with investigators, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Gendron traveled about 200 miles from his Conklin, New York home, to Buffalo and that particular grocery store, and to a place which has the largest Black population in western New York.
Investigators believe Mr. Gendron specifically researched the demographics of the population around the Tops Friendly Market and had been searching for communities with a high number of Black residents.
Police said Mr. Gendron shot, in total, 11 Black people and two White people in a rampage broadcast live before surrendering to authorities. Screenshots purporting to be from the Twitch broadcast appear to show a racial epithet scrawled on the rifle used in the attack, as well as the number 14, a likely reference to a White supremacist slogan.
“We pray for their families. But after we pray—after we get up off of our knees—we’ve got to demand change. We’ve got to demand justice,” state Attorney General Letitia James said at an emotional Sunday church service in Buffalo the day after the mass shooting. “This was domestic terrorism, plain and simple.”
“This was pure evil,” added Erie County Sheriff John Garcia, who expressly called the shooting a hate crime. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia called the killings a hate crime. “He was very heavily armed,” Commissioner Gramaglia said. “He had tactical gear, he had a tactical helmet on, he had a camera that he was livestreaming what he was doing.” Mr. Gendron shot four people, three fatally, in the supermarket parking lot. One victim is expected to be the lone survivor. Another official said Mr. Gendron was armed with an assault weapon.
Twitch said in a statement that it ended Mr. Gendron’s transmission “less than two minutes after the violence started.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native, denounced the killings as hate crimes and domestic terrorism. She vowed to fight White supremacists. She also called for the tech industry to take responsibility for their role in propagation of extreme views and talked about the need for stronger gun laws.
The White House and civil rights groups condemned the killings.
Mr. Gendron, confronted by police in the store’s vestibule, put a rifle to his neck but was convinced to drop it. He was arraigned May 14 on a murder charge, appearing before a judge in a paper gown. He pled not guilty. Buffalo police declined to comment on the purported manifesto that seemingly explicates the attacker’s racist, anti-immigrant and antisemitic beliefs, including a desire to drive all those not of European descent from the U.S. The document indicated he drew inspiration from the shooter who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.
Daleel Muhammad in New York and the Associated Press contributed to this report.