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Racist shooting in Buffalo lays bare inequities

The full episode transcript for Hate and Heartbreak in Buffalo.


Into America

Hate and Heartbreak in Buffalo

Trymaine Lee: Roberta A. Drury was 32. She moved to Buffalo about a decade ago to care for her brother who was recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

Margus D. Morrison was 52. A father of six, who worked as a bus aide for Buffalo public schools.

Andre Mackneil was 53 and he was picking up a birthday cake for his young son.

Aaron Salter was 55. A retired Buffalo Police officer and security guard who folks say was a bridge in the community.

Geraldine Talley was 62 and engaged to be married.

Celestine Chaney was 65. A grandmother of six. She survived breast cancer and a brain aneurysm.

Heyward Patterson was 67. He was a deacon at his church.

Katherine Massey was 72. A longtime civil rights activist. A hometown legend, who spent much of her life advocating for the black community.

Pearl Young was 77. A dedicated substitute teacher for the Buffalo School District.

And Ruth Whitfield was 86. A dutiful wife who made daily visits to her husband in his nursing home. She was also the mother of a former Buffalo Fire Commissioner. Mrs. Whitfield was the eldest of 10 victims. Allegedly killed by a teenage white supremacist in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York over the weekend.

Three others were wounded. But so many more of us felt the familiar hurt of gun violence in America and more so we felt the specific kind of pain that comes when that violence is fueled by racism and hate, both as American as apple pie, but still so bitter with every single bite.

It's been a rough few days and I know that so many of you have gone through the same range of emotions that I have since the killings; anger at the coward whose name I don't even want to say and every single person who helped create the monster inside of him. Grief at the loss of so much innocent life, a gunman driving over 200 miles to snatch the lives of our elders, our sisters and brothers. And resignation, that thirsty hate for black people in this country has never been quenched. That's been passed down from one generation to the next.

White supremacist ideology has shifted shapes. It comes with hashtags, and catchphrases and masquerades as racial realism and various forms of conservatism and Christianity. But sometimes, it doesn't bother hiding at all, revealing itself in violence and bloodshed.

Archival Recording: (CROWD VOICES) It happened two hours after a planned protest billed as unite the right was shut down by police.

Archival Recording: Heartbreak and shock in Charleston. The stunning massacre--

Archival Recording: White nationalist carry torches in the city, eerily reminiscent of Nazi party propaganda--

Archival Recording: Why did a young man walk into a historic black church, sit with praying parishioners and shoot them in cold blood?

Archival Recording: You will not replace us. You will not replace us.

Savannah Guthrie: Six women, three men were killed, the massacre is being called a hate crime.

Archival Recording: When you take a Jewish synagogue on the day of Sabbath and create a hostage barricade, then you're committing an act of terrorism.

Archival Recording: An assault-style weapon, an AR-15-style weapon that can fire semi-automatic rounds--

Kathy Park: Panic in El Paso this morning when a day of shopping--

Archival Recording: Let's go. Let's go.

Park: --turned into horror with an active shooter on the loose.

Archival Recording: Run. Run out that way. Run out that way.

Archival Recording: Once inside the store, he opened fire using his AK-47, shooting multiple innocent victims. The defendant stated his target were 'Mexicans'.

Chuck Todd: Well, it's happened again, a horror all too familiar in the United States. This time the scene of what appears to have been an act of domestic terrorism was a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. A white teenager wearing body armor and carrying an assault rifle open fire at a supermarket in an African-American neighborhood.

Lee: Law enforcement and the media often describe the perpetrators as lone wolves. But really, the work of white supremacy is never lonely.

Archival Recording: You will not replace us.

Archival Recording: You will not replace us.

Lee: It's been stoked by politicians, spread through social media and mainstreamed by TV pundits.

Tucker Carlson: This policy is called the great replacement, the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.

Laura Ingraham: Your views on immigration will have zero impact and zero influence on a House-dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens.

Carlson: That's what's happening, actually. Let's just say it, that's true.

Lee: In a manifesto that police say was penned by the gunman, he cites replacement theory as a motivation for his attack. Replacement theory is this wildly false belief that there's a plot to replace the country's white majority with people of color through immigration, interracial marriage and violence for political or economic gain. And what's even wilder is that this once fringe idea is spreading beyond the favored message boards of hardcore conspiracy theorists.

A recent poll from the Associated Press and University of Chicago has shown that as many as a third of Americans buy into at least some parts of this theory. And as the idea spreads, so do the consequences.

Joe Biden: What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism.

Lee: President Biden spoke to this idea when he visited Buffalo on Tuesday.

Biden: Violence inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.

A hate that through the media and politics, the Internet, has radicalized angry, alienated, lost and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced - that’s the word, "replaced" by the "other" - by people who don’t look like them and who are therefore, in a perverse ideology that they possess and being fed, lesser beings.

I and all of you reject the lie. I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain, and for profit.

Lee: But beyond theories, and manifestos and calls for change sits a community still reeling, and grieving and wondering when and if healing will ever come. And until then, they're trying to hold on.

Archival Recording: I try and stay hopeful, because without it, what do we have?

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee and this is Into America.

As the City of Buffalo and the nation grapple with the latest act of racist violence aimed at black Americans, we talked with one Buffalo activist about what this act of terror has done to her city and the many levels of violence that black people in Buffalo experience every single day.

India Walton: This was like legitimately the only grocery store in the black community in Buffalo.

Lee: India Walton is a lifelong Buffalo resident. A senior advisor for the progressive Working Families Party. And in 2021, she ran for mayor of the city as a Democrat.

Walton: We all knew someone, we all knew that we were going to know someone or be in proximity to a victim and that's an unfortunate part of this tragedy.

Lee: India, there are never the right words to engage with the kind of grief, and terror and sadness that we experience as black people in particular in this country. And I wonder how you're feeling, how your community is dealing with this. It's only been days, but how are you all making out?

Walton: Trymaine, I held my 25-year-old son for the first time in many years. I held him in my arms and he cried. There are no words. There are no solutions. There's no consolation. The community reeling. Somebody walked into a grocery store and shot up a bunch of our grannies and aunties basically.

There's something especially American about the cowardice of walking into a grocery store or a church and attacking our elders. And I heard it said that there's no one in Buffalo who wasn't touched, who didn't know someone. And I wonder when you reflect on the elders that we lost and the people that we lost in that store, I wonder if you knew anyone personally.

Walton: I did. I was live on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman when she read the name.

Amy Goodman: India, welcome back to Democracy Now! Right now, you're just a few blocks from the grocery store where the shooting took place.

Walton: And I found out that a close friend of mine, Kat Massey, was one of the victims.

Goodman: --what's happening in your community.

Walton: There are a lot of heavy hearts and Buffalo right now. Details are still emerging, Amy. And as a matter of fact, I didn't know that Kat Massey was one of the victims. I started my organizing career right here in the Fruit Belt and Kat was a pillar of this community and a longtime supporter of mine in the work that I did. And these are some of the folks that we lost in this very horrific and tragic incident.

Lee: India's roots and networks in East Buffalo run deep. She's built her life there and she understands its history. She knows that the violence of systemic racism hit this community long before the weekend. Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the country, according to a study from the University of Michigan. And the black community is mostly concentrated in East Buffalo and that's where Tops supermarket is.

Walton: We are victims of terror every day of our lives. And I think the saddest part about this is it was here how long, this has been spun as a person who was not from here, who was an out of towner, he was only from 200 miles away.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: But we can put a pin on a map because you know where black people shop, because that's the only place black people can shop. That's the problem. This country was built on white supremacy, built on racism, built on terror and our people have been the victims of it for far too long.

Lee: Just two blocks away from the supermarket, the Kensington Expressway cuts directly through one of these East Buffalo black neighborhoods. Like so many highways across the country, it was built after World War II as part of the so-called 'Urban Renewal Movement'. But far from renewing East Buffalo, the expressway decimated the community, cleaving it from resources, displacing residents, stifling economic development and destroying a park.

For black residents, the impact of systemic racism follows them in their everyday lives, from education and job opportunities to housing and even life expectancy. For example, a 2018 study from Princeton found that black people in Buffalo live about five years less than their white counterparts.

Walton: I mean, New York State just passed a budget of a lot of money and 650 million of that went to a billionaire to build a new stadium. We are more concerned about entertaining people than we are with housing people with providing basic care, like health care, like child care, like education. We've been prioritizing the wrong things and the wrong people and the ones that we should be prioritizing are the most vulnerable. The poor people or the working class, our black and brown people, our immigrants, our migrant workers and families who can use these resources and put them to much better use than how we're currently allocating our funding.

Lee: India says racism and white supremacy are part and parcel of living in Buffalo and western New York for that matter.

Walton: Two, three years ago, maybe even four, our county sheriff, his name was Tim Howard, he's now retired, appeared at a white supremacist rally--

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: --in his uniform with the confederate flag hanging behind him. That's the Buffalo that I know.

Lee: In 2017, the Erie County Sheriff at the time, a Republican named Timothy B. Howard, gave a speech in uniform at a pro-Trump rally in Buffalo. And in that speech, Howard called for ramped up immigration sweeps. Images show people in the crowd waving flags, including at least one confederate flag and a blue lives matter flag. And Democratic officials said there were known white supremacist in attendance.

At the time, Sheriff Howard released a statement saying that he spoke to raise the awareness of the broken immigration process and denied supporting white supremacy. That wasn't enough for India who says the racism in Buffalo goes far beyond this one incident.

Walton: This is a racist city. We are complicit. In many ways, our elected officials are complicit, not only have allowed this to proliferate, but reward it. I'm not going to sit here and pretend like this is a surprise.

Lee: So there should be no feigning of shock for anybody in this community who's been paying attention at all?

Walton: This is who we are. This is Buffalo.

Lee: Mm-hm. It's also wild for us to hear more of the nonsense coming from the far-right and white supremacists about replacement theory. But I wonder when you hear about some of the motivations behind this white supremacists motives, alleged motives, this replacement theory in white supremacists, what do you make of that? Like when you heard this is what fueled him, what were your thoughts?

Walton: I didn't hire security, full time to watch me to take me here and there, because I was afraid to black people.

Lee: When India ran for mayor of Buffalo last year, she started to fear for her safety, including one incident that shook her to the core.

Walton: I was walking in a plaza in the suburb of Buffalo and people always looked at me, but this particular time, I was going to call him a gentleman, but it was a dude, it was a man and his wife and they were whispering to each other like, "That's her. That's her." And I say, "Hey, how you doing?" I always speak. And he was just so angry, not the wife, the husband. He had a cup of coffee. He threw the coffee at me and he said, "You got some nerve, you black (inaudible)."

Lee: Some nerve to what? You got some nerve to be in that space?

Walton: Some nerve to challenge the power structure, I guess.

Lee: And that's what a lot of this is, right? I guess we're not in our place.

Walton: Yeah. This has been an undercurrent in the local narrative for a long time. There's such a thing as sundown towns and the first ring suburbs of Buffalo are that. There are places where you know you can't be caught if you are a person of color after dark, because harm will be caused to you.

I think I'm just not as shocked as other people are.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: I live here. I know this to be a racist place. The January 6th insurrectionists, a lot of those people were from here.

Lee: According to local news reports, authorities have identified at least five men from the Buffalo area who participated in the January 6 Capitol insurrection.

Walton: Everyone knows it. We just choose to sweep it under the rug and pretend like everything's okay and it's not.

Lee: But in spite of the systemic barriers, through the grief and the terror, the community has rallied together. And this, India says, is what makes Buffalo special.

Walton: I really love this place and while we are grieving, what we do is we come together and we stand up for one another. There's been food distribution, mutual aid and like these are things that existed before the tragedy of Saturday, right? There's always been - we've always - we don't call ourselves the city of good neighbors for nothing.

Lee: When we come back, where we go from here and how we invest in the health and safety of black communities. Stick with us.


Lee: In the days since the shooting in Buffalo, India says there's been a lot of fear among residents.

Walton: I was just talking to my sister earlier and I'm like, "Taco Tuesday?" And she's like, "Girl, I'm not going outside."

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: People are afraid. People are scared. It's a little bit too close to home for me. Like I said, that neighborhood is where I did most of my organizing, my first job as an organizer, that my office was on the next block. From the window--

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: --you can see that Tops. I lost personal friends, it is tough.

Lee: I often feel like having these conversations and it always turns to guns in one way or the other, right? I think certainly, we've been on one side of the gun for a very long time, so our dynamic and our relationship with guns in the Second Amendment is strained. How should we be thinking about defense of our community and protecting ourselves?

Walton: Trymaine, I'm struggling with this. I'm struggling with this.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: And the solution to that, in my opinion, more and more is responsible legal ownership if we knew how to be responsible about ownership, things might be different. Maybe not. It's a very confusing time, right? The good guy with the gun was murdered. This 18-year-old was a legal gun owner in the State of New York. Someone allowed him to legally possess a weapon, even though he threatened to shoot at his high school and even though we knew he had tendencies toward violence. We can talk all day long about like how things might have played out different if his skin were a different color.

Lee: People don't want to have these conversations, especially in these kind of ally spaces, in these political spaces. But I know every conversation I'm having with brothers and sisters is revolving around this and what do we do in it and it's sad that we have to be here. But when we see our grandmothers being murdered in the grocery store and we see our brothers and sisters murdered, I feel like America is leaving us very few choices.

Walton: I mean, there are too many conversations that have to be had around how this happens, how it's allowed to happen, the result of it, the trauma that our community is facing right now. But the trauma that we've been living in for generations. It's horrible. It's so awful.

Lee: Have police and law enforcement you think done enough locally to address the issues of white supremacist violence and white supremacy period. And also, not just in the state, but you think our country has done nothing to the law enforcement to really address it?

Walton: Law enforcement is a part of the problem. They are racist, also, very, especially locally. There's been investigative reporting that's come out lately about the number of traffic stops that happen. The majority of the people who are stopped are black people and the interesting part is like on the social media posts, the defense from my neighbors is - well, black people and Latino people commit more crimes. The police should stop them more. This is what people actually believe, still, in 2022. And we know what to not be true, but it's so ingrained in our society, in our DNA to believe in this inherent criminality of black people. It's okay for us to be harassed, and accosted and terrorized.

Lee: There's a video that alleges to show the killer pausing at a white man and saying, sorry. And I've seen this video, I don't know if it's confirmed or not, but he moves through the store, but sees a white man and says, I'm sorry. But then takes Kat Massey. Is there any hope for us? And I don't mean us as a people, I mean us as a country.

Walton: I try and stay hopeful, because without it, what do we have? And I have friends and allies who show up. My people were out in neighborhoods yesterday delivering groceries and knocking on doors and checking on people like I know there are good people out here. But the soul of this country, the very foundation is what should be on trial right now.

Lee: There's so many people who would never and have never stepped foot in some of our disinvested and divested black communities, but that folks are pushing and fighting for grocery stores, food, fighting for access to clean water. So we talk about the violence of white supremacist with a gun, but there's a violence of a white supremacist system every single day that's choking us out. In moments like this, where folks will be more aware and even in our community, do you think that these are moments that we can actually grow from and some meaningful way?

Walton: That's my hope. And the mainstream media is like, "Oh, it was a food desert." And I'm like, "No." Deserts are naturally occurring. This is food apartheid. These are policy choices. For many years, people have been complaining about that at Tops. The quality of the food, the prices and we were told, be grateful that any grocery store will come into this neighborhood.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: We haven't forgotten that. We deserve everything that everybody else has and more and more.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: And more. And you know what's the most important to me right now is that we get our own, that we're not begging anybody to come service our community because we've been doing it ourselves and we need the resources to ensure that we're able to continue to do that and do it better.

Lee: One of the ways India is supporting East Buffalo is through the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, which is working to buy and develop properties for low income families. That's how she got to know Ms. Katherine Massey. Her friend who was killed on Saturday.

Walton: Kat Massey lived on Cherry St. and I co-found it and was executive director of a nonprofit called the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust. Our mission was to preserve the fabric of a neighborhood that was being gentrified. Kat Massey, donated $10 a month.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: Every month we got a check to support that work and she kept photo albums of all the work that we did. She was a fighter. She was a true community G (ph).

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: She was a person that I held near and dear to my heart, who was always a source of strength, power and encouragement. When I wanted to quit, she always made it clear that she didn't get this fire in order for people like me to give up. I would have never suspected that she would have fallen to something so senseless and violent.

For the life of me, I don't know how any person could have looked Kat Massey in the face and decided that she wasn't worthy of more life.

Lee: Here we are, in the days after this horrific killing and people are talking about gun control, and mental health and all of these things that we always do, hopes and prayers. Can we hope our way out of this white supremacist kind of violence? Can we pray our way out of it? Do we structure our way out of it? What are we left with here? I don't want to put all of that weight on you like you have to have the answer. But as we're trying to figure out what exactly to do, how do we find our way out of the depths of the abyss of white supremacy?

Walton: I've been thinking about this for a very long time. The reason why we founded Community Land Trust, just blocks away from where this happened, is because we know that the way to liberation is through self-determination and autonomy. We need our own, we need to have community ownership of land, of grocery stores, of resources and I think that this should be a national call for broad reparations and a true reparative framework to make sure that we are allowing people of color, black people specifically, to have the resources we need to survive.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Walton: We take care of one another. All of the funerals for the victims' families are paid for and these are things that happened within hours. People stepped up to make sure that everyone is okay as they could be in this moment. So I'm always proud to be a Buffalonian. I just know that we can do better and that's my hope is that we'll do better.

Lee: The accused gunman in the Buffalo shooting was arraigned Saturday evening on first degree murder charges. He pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail. He's scheduled to be back in court this Thursday for hearing. What we saw in Buffalo is what we've seen in every act of white terrorism in the past. White supremacy threatens the very foundation of what allows us to be safe, well and protected, both within and outside of our communities.

White supremacy cuts all of us off, regardless of race or gender or class, from the full breadth of our talents and possibilities as individuals and as a nation. And as we spend time reflecting on last week's tragic shooting, thoughts and prayers aren't enough. We need to act, undoing the forces, policies and systems that leaves so many black communities struggling to survive and by extension, leaves so much of the country struggling to achieve a vision of America that works for everyone.

Into America is produced by Sojourner Ahebee, Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Joshua Sirotiak. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Aisha Turner. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll see you next Thursday.