Black people going about their daily business – then dying in a hail of bullets fired by a white man who targeted them because of their skin color.
Replace a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, with a church in South Carolina, and Malcolm Graham knows the pain and grief the families of those killed on Saturday feel. He knows their dismay at the racial bigotry that has torn the fabric of their families.
“America’s Achilles heel continues to be…racism,” said Graham, whose sister, Cynthia Graham-Hurd, was among nine parishioners shot and killed by outspoken white supremacist Dylann Roof in 2015 during of a Bible study in Charleston.
“As a country, we have to acknowledge that it exists,” Graham said. “There is a lack of recognition that these issues are persistent, embedded in systems and cost lives.”
For many black Americans, the Buffalo shooting evoked the same feelings they faced after Charleston and other attacks: fear, vulnerability, worry that nothing would be done politically or otherwise to prevent the next act targeted racial violence.
Law enforcement officials said suspected gunman Payton Gendron, 18, traveled 200 miles from his hometown of Conklin, New York, to Buffalo after searching and specifically targeting a predominantly black neighborhood.
He shot and killed 11 blacks and two whites at the grocery store, authorities said. Ten people died.
A 180-page document, allegedly written by Gendron, gives plans for the attack and references other racist shootings and Roof. The document also describes a racist ideology rooted in the belief that the United States should belong only to white people. All others, according to the document, were “substitutes” who would have to be eliminated by force or terror. The attack was intended to intimidate all non-white and non-Christian people into leaving the country, he said.
The idea that those killed at Tops Friendly Market lost their lives because of the shooter’s racism is ‘sick’, said Steve Carlson, 29, who is black and grew up knowing Katherine Massey, one of the victims .
“That’s not true. You don’t choose what ethnicity you were born into,” Carlson said. “These people were just running errands, they went to get food for their families.”
At the State Tabernacle of God in Christ Church, Deacon Heyward Patterson was mourned during Sunday services. Pastor Russell Bell couldn’t understand Patterson’s attack and death.
“I don’t understand what it’s like, hating people just because of their color, hating people because we’re different. God created us all different. It’s what makes the world go round,” he said.
But as heinous as the shooting was, it was not an isolated incident. The history of the United States is filled with white supremacist violence, beginning even before its official origins.
Black people have borne and continue to bear the brunt of it, but other groups have also come under attack because of their race, including Latinos in the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas. , where 22 people were killed.
Gunmen with religious and sexual orientation biases have also committed targeted violence: the shootings at a San Diego synagogue in 2019 and at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.
Florida Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is gay and of Peruvian descent, immediately had flashbacks to the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead. The shooter targeted gay customers in a predominantly Latino crowd.
“It’s deja vu again in Orlando,” said Smith, who represents an Orlando district. “2016 seems like a long time ago, but in 2022 there is a lot more hate and bigotry.”
Experiencing violence of all kinds is obviously traumatic, but the impact of targeted violence like this has repercussions on a broader level.
“Being targeted for these things that you can’t control is not only extremely painful emotionally, but it also impacts how you perceive the world moving forward,” said Michael Edison Hayden, spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which advocates for civil rights.
Hate crime laws are on the books in recognition of this reality. The effect of events like these is “you’ve increased the vulnerability of everyone who looks like the target,” said Jeannine Bell, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. “It’s a different kind of crime because it not only affects the victims, but also the community.”
While there are always twists and consternation after incidents like these, it hasn’t translated into a commitment to tackle the bigotry that underlies them, said Cornell Williams Brooks, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and former president and CEO of the NAACP.
He is weary of promises from political leaders to do more against white supremacist threats and gun violence.
“Count the number of condolence cards and flowers, prayers and thoughts that went out to the victims of mass shootings, to the victims of racialized violence,” he said. “Do we really need (politicians) showing up at our places of worship to help bury our people and do nothing to stop the carnage?”