‘Another Dylann Roof ... another Emmett Till’: Buffalo reels from racist mass shooting

A woman covers her eyes.
A woman reacts after Saturday’s mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.
(Joshua Bessex / Associated Press)

Disbelieving. Unsurprised. Fearful. Unafraid.

A day after a white gunman was suspected of traveling across New York state to massacre Black shoppers in what is being investigated as a racist hate crime, the community reeled Sunday from a mix of raw, sometimes contradictory, reactions.

At times the divide wasn’t just among neighbors struggling to process how to grieve a tragedy that occurred just a day earlier, but also within the hearts and minds of individuals as they sought in real time to turn their sorrow into statements.

Duane Noble, who grew up three blocks from the Tops Friendly Markets store where 11 Black people and two white people were shot Saturday, with 10 of them dying, described his initial reaction to the mass shooting as “shocked.”


But minutes later he acknowledged what many Black, Latino and other Americans have feared when targeted domestic terrorism unsettles a city that never thought it could be next, such as Charleston, S.C., in 2015, Pittsburgh in 2018 and El Paso in 2019.

“I’ve actually thought that something’s going to happen in Buffalo,” said Noble, 61, a licensed optician.

“I don’t know when. I don’t know how. I don’t know where. But something’s going to happen,” he recalled thinking, “and it did.”

Witnesses and authorities said the suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, of Conklin, N.Y., was dressed in body armor and armed with a high-powered rifle as he livestreamed the massacre. Investigators were reviewing a hate-filled manifesto that the suspect apparently posted online.

“It was straight up a racially motivated hate crime,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia told reporters.

A heavy law enforcement presence and yellow tape blocked access to the grocery store Sunday. Yet the community still showed up, with people lining the streets to feed others, hand out water, pray and commemorate the victims with flowers and candles.

Residents described the east Buffalo neighborhood as a largely segregated food desert with only one supermarket, whose temporary closing means that families will have to travel farther for basic needs at a time when many households nationwide are struggling with rising costs for goods and services.

“Why does the east side only have one supermarket?” asked Dwyane Jones, senior pastor of Mt. Aaron Baptist Church. “This guy knew where he could come and do the most damage. We should’ve provided better for the people.”

Jones, a developer and former law enforcement official, said blame for the attack ranges from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul all the way down to the Buffalo Common Council, and even himself.

“We, as leaders, have let the people down,” he said. “It’s not a good day for Buffalo.”

Jones led a prayer at a morning vigil and later delivered a sermon emphasizing that God still cares — about everyone and what happens to them — despite Saturday’s tragedy. One parishioner’s takeaway was that God not only will work everything out in the end but that he already has begun.

“We’re not going to walk around in fear, and we’re not going to walk around in hate for no one,” said Deacon Jeffrey Curry, 59, a lifelong Buffalo resident. “It takes too much energy to hate.”

Some community members warned that misplaced hatred and anger in response to the gunman’s actions could start a race war.

Njera Wilson, who grew up a few blocks from the market but now lives across town, was outside the grocery store Sunday talking to friends about the shooting and their plans for the coming days and weeks.

“We need a sit-down of our Black leaders … because we want to find a way to come together and to be alert to this type of thing,” said Wilson, 41. “Even though he’s not from here, he could start a war here.”

In the 1990s, Republicans spread fear over people of color “replacing” white people in California. It’s tenet of white supremacy we must confront.

Not everyone agreed that such a rupture would be a bad thing.

“Honestly, what I would like to see is us separate as a nation,” said a Black man outside the market who would only provide the alias Priest John and a Yahoo email address with no identifying information in it.

Other Black residents expressed deep fear for their own safety and that of their loved ones.

“Everybody in my house is on edge,” said Tyhirah Mims, a 19-year-old assistant teacher who held a black sign that read “Black Lives Matter!! I won’t rest!!” in white lettering. “I’m angry. I cried. It was a lot.”

She said she was scared to shop at Walmart on Sunday morning and feels like she can no longer take her son anywhere and guarantee his safety.

Leslie Gardner, a 63-year-old woman who has lived in the majority-Black neighborhood around the Tops store her entire life, said that as an older Black resident, she sees the incident as the latest in a long string of white supremacist violence in Buffalo and across the nation.

“There’s anger, which is natural, but people my age, we’ve seen it all,” Gardner said. “We’ve heard it from our parents and our grandparents that this is our legacy, our legacy of survival, our legacy of being abused and brutalized.”

The shooting for her is “another Dylann Roof … another lynching, another Emmett Till situation.”

Today, Gardner said, her community needs to take time to process and heal from the trauma.

“We need healing, and it is going to take months, years, for us to heal,” she said. “Every time we pass the store we’ll think of it.”

Francine Foster, a 58-year-old woman who lives near Tops, countered that Buffalo isn’t like other cities where similar attacks have occurred.

“We’re not like any other community you’ve ever been in,” she said, highlighting its nickname, “The City of Good Neighbors.” “We love each other, we love our community and we’re Buffalo strong. We’ve had losses before — we lost four Super Bowls. We’re used to loss, but we also are strong.”

Patricia Barrett, 57, a lifelong resident of Buffalo, said she’s hurt and saddened by the shooting and is praying for the families’ strength. But she was adamant that she won’t let fear stop her from living.

“I’m not going to be in fear,” she said. “I’m not going to live my life in fear.”

Conspiracy-minded Americans provide powerful support for some pernicious ideas. The political establishment has lost its ability to keep such ideas at bay.

“It’s unreal for Buffalo,” said Roger Garrett, a 73-year-old retired schoolteacher. “Something like this doesn’t happen in Buffalo.”