By AARON MORRISON – Associated Press
BUFFALO, NY (AP) – Shenaya Ann Washington and a close friend cleared a small patch of grass at the base of a utility pole on Riley Street. They dug a hole in it and planted a red rose seedling in it. Next, they leaned 10 prayer candles against the pole.
Washington said she chose this location to commemorate the victims of last weekend’s massacre at Tops Friendly Market because it is closest to the entrance to the store she had always used as a part-time worker to Instacart, the grocery delivery service.
Sometimes when she walked out of the store, Aaron Salter Jr., the slain retired police officer who worked security at Tops, would help Washington get back to his car with the grocery orders, she said. .
The shooter, whose racist attack deeply hurt the black community in East Buffalo, stole much more than the neighborhood’s only grocery store and the sense of peace many residents felt in the cherished community gathering place.
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“He took people who were doing for the community, just because of the color of their skin. It’s a revelation. It’s a reality check,” Washington said.
During Sunday service, Pastor Russell Bell of the State Tabernacle of God in Christ Church, where shooting victim Heyward Patterson was a deacon, promised his congregation that they would hold a celebration of his life. Bell also encouraged his predominantly black flock to lean into their faith.
“We are going to be winners if we persevere to the end,” he said.
Just over a week ago, a white gunman in a bulletproof vest killed 10 black shoppers and employees at the temporarily closed supermarket. Three other people were injured in the attack, which federal authorities are investigating as a hate crime.
Long before this avowed 18-year-old white supremacist inflicted terror on this community, black neighborhoods in Buffalo, like many others across the country, suffered from wounds that span generations. The attack scratched the crust hiding the trauma and neglect of black people who lie just below the surface in what is being called the city of good neighbors, residents, business owners and religious leaders said.
Healing will require not only an immediate flood of charity, but also systemic solutions, economic investments and long-lasting mental health counselling, they said.
“It was great to see the outpouring of support, I have to say,” said Jackie Stover-Stitts, co-owner of Golden Cup Coffee, about a block from The Tops on Jefferson Avenue.
For the past few days, the atmosphere around her shop had been that of a party and, at times, a dark space of mourning. Organizations across the country, and even a few global charities, donated food and other essentials to residents who relied on Tops to meet their basic needs.
“The only concern is that it’s not short-lived,” Stover-Stitts said. “It would mean more if we could see on Monday that all those people with funds who came down to say how sorry they were could show it by investing in our region.”
Buffalo, with a population of 255,000 including 47% white, 35% black, 12% Hispanic and 6% Asian, is one of the most segregated cities in the country. The neighborhoods around Tops Market are predominantly black and poor.
Earlier in the week, civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton pointed to racial and socio-economic inequalities that made the Tops a target for the shooter, who officials say traveled hundreds of miles to find black people to kill.
“If there was only one supermarket in the black community, it wouldn’t have gone to Tops,” Sharpton said at a prayer vigil held in Buffalo for the families of the victims on Thursday.
“If you can figure out how to get millions of dollars for a stadium, can’t you figure out how to get a supermarket,” Sharpton added, referring to a planned new $1.4 billion field for the Buffalo Bills that will will be largely funded. by taxpayers.
La’Tryse Anderson of Buffalo SNUG, a gun violence prevention organization, surveyed the neighborhood around the Tops with other volunteers to get a sense of residents’ needs. Some told him they needed groceries, toiletries, replacement appliances, and even a paid utility bill.
“I wish I had a magic wand,” she said. “There were so many needs here, before this (filming) happened.”
Without real investment in the areas surrounding the Tops, Anderson said, “I don’t think we’ll get out of this all the way.”
Residents will definitely need the option of another supermarket as some have vowed never to set foot in this Tops location again, she added. They are too traumatized.
Reshawna Chapple, a black therapist and associate professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Central Florida, said the shock and grief caused by the supermarket shooting is compounded when people don’t look after their health mental. Systemic racism is part of the reason why too few members of the black community seek mental health counseling, either on a regular basis or following a tragedy, she said.
“Every time something like this happens, it reopens wounds,” Chapple said. “We are not taught to recognize negative feelings. Those who need help the most are certainly not going to ask for it.
Mental health and bereavement counseling is why several community service organizations camped around the supermarket for several days. With the Tops fenced off, organizations such as Feed Buffalo, Ramp Global Missions, and LIFE Camp Inc., lined surrounding streets with food trucks, mobile pantries, and barbecue pits serving chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs.
A trio of massage therapists provided neck and back care to the victims’ families and other residents. A local Starbucks offered free coffee to passers-by.
An evangelist baptized people in a large galvanized tank at the corner of Riley Street and Jefferson Avenue. The local Muslim community offered prayers and chants of “We are with you” near the supermarket.
Gregory Jackson Jr., a Washington-based organizer with the Community Justice Action Fund, said he came to Buffalo to help coordinate relief efforts for the families and residents of the victims, who were too traumatized to ask what to do. they need.
“A lot of people aren’t even close to getting back to normal life yet,” he said. “You get local police, cameras and media, from all over the world. But the community is stuck picking up the pieces with no more support.
The supermarket shooting also drew support from activists across the country. On Saturday, organizers of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, a national collective of chapters, held a vigil for Buffalo. Organizers from Boston, Detroit, Virginia Beach, Virginia and Minneapolis attended and vowed to be with Buffalo residents as they continue to heal from the racist attack.
“We can’t have a world that steals the lives of our grandmothers,” said Melina Abdullah, who leads BLM and founded its Los Angeles chapter. “We have a duty to shut this down.”
Morrison writes about race and justice for the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.
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