The racist shooting in Buffalo is still affecting the city
A year ago, Brooklyn Hough was a cashier at Tops Friendly Market on Buffalo’s east side. She was 22 years old and worked to support her two children. Hough was on his lunch break on a typical quiet Saturday.
Then Payton Gendron arrived at the store. He committed a racist killing spree that shocked the nation and traumatized the city.
Hough heard gunshots and then screams. At first she thought the store was being robbed. She escaped through the back of the store.
“I didn’t see the murder, but I saw the bodies,” Hough told HuffPost.
She tried to call her boyfriend but his phone broke so she called her mother. Her mother could also hear other people screaming.
Gendron murdered ten blacks and injured three others. In his 180-page manifesto, the 18-year-old said he opposed the “Great Replacement,” a dangerous white supremacist ideology that claims the government and Democrats are deliberately replacing ethnic Europeans with non-Europeans in order to protect political and cultural interests gain benefits advantage.
In February a state judge sentenced Gendron to 11 consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole. Just before the judge announced his verdict, a family member of a victim verbally abused the shooter and another man lunged at him, temporarily halting proceedings.
For Hough and others in Buffalo, the shooter’s calculated acts of violence caused pain that will linger in the community for generations to come. Local activists remember the May 14 shooting as “514.”
The grocery store was closed after the murders but is now open. Hough needed to find other ways to pay her bills and support her young children, so she took another job as a cashier. Along the way, she became part of a support group with local activist Myles Carter and others, discussing demands on behalf of massacre survivors and help for their predominantly black community.
Hough and Carter both remember President Joe Biden coming to town in the days after the tragedy. He spoke to the family members who had lost loved ones and to those who were injured, although Hough wished he had met other people who were at the store as well.
Ten days after the shooting, another 18-year-old traveled to Uvalde, Texas, and fatally shot 19 children and two teachers at a school. Seventeen others were injured but survived the attack. National attention quickly turned to Texas.
Carter says blacks and black communities have been terrorized for years — and that jailing the killers is not enough, although it is necessary.
“For us, Peyton Gendron is the person who hurt us. But Peyton Gendron is a foot soldier in the sea of white supremacy. We have no real justice here because he is one of many. And you can see it happening throughout history,” he said.
Racism existed in Buffalo long before Gendron—he wasn’t even the first killer to target the city’s black population.
Four decades ago, a serial killer hunted down black men in the city, despite residents pleading with police to investigate and end the violence. Beginning in 1980, a man named Joseph Christopher killed men with a .22 caliber handgun, seemingly at random except for their race—they were all black men.
Local black leaders urged city officials to investigate the killings as a conspiracy, but law enforcement still worked to establish links between the killings.
The killings caught the attention of then-national civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, who worked with his Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Jackson came to Buffalo to meet with more than 600 black residents in the area.
During the funeral of one of the victims, a truckload of white men drove past a mannequin with head wounds painted red and threw red paint at the victim’s hearse.
Christopher was eventually arrested for killing a 14-year-old black boy and three men. However, he was also suspected of numerous other murders, including the murders of several black men who were mutilated or even had their hearts ripped out.
To this day, cases of racism have plagued the city, including some originating with the Buffalo Police Department. In 2006, a black officer named Cariol Horne was fired from the department and lost her pension after stopping a colleague from choking a black man while he was handcuffed.
Fourteen years later, after the killing of George Floyd, Buffalo passed what it called the “Cariol Act,” which requires officers to intervene if another officer uses excessive force.
Recently, Buffalo Police Captain Amber Beyer was named in a lawsuit and reassigned within the department after black employees said she launched a racist tirade. The lawsuit describes Beyer starting a 20-minute tirade, saying that all black men are unfaithful to their wives and that black people commit more crimes than white people.
“White officers get PTSD from working in black neighborhoods — like Buffalo’s East Side — but black officers don’t because they’re used to violence and blacks commit more violent crimes than whites,” Beyer allegedly said, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleged that Beyer discriminated against black employees by offering overtime to attend conferences and events for white officials with the least seniority.
beer was reassigned within the department and admitted to breaking its rules and regulations after receiving a 30-day unpaid suspension. She took implicit bias training after an internal review.
Carter himself is suing the city’s police force after police assaulted and arrested him while he was in custody interviewed by a local TV station in June 2020 amid protests following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The video went viral and Carter was charged with obstructing government administration and disorderly conduct, but those charges were dropped the following month.
Carter doesn’t think anything has changed in his town after the mass shooting. “The people who are dealing with the tragedy of 514 are still locked in their homes and not working,” he said.
Carter and Hough want financial and mental support for the survivors, reimbursement for purchases made at Tops the day of the shooting, and support for self-defense training.
While Hough worked at Tops, the state raised the minimum wage to $13.20, but that still wasn’t enough to make ends meet. She wishes Buffalo Public Schools, the school district where she graduated from, got a lot more attention and money.
Five city schools were recently added to the list of underfunded and much-needed schools in the state, according to a report by the New York State Education Department. (In March 2021, Democratic New York Rep. Brian Higgins stated announced Buffalo schools would receive $814 million plus an additional $232 million from the American Rescue Plan.)
Meanwhile, Hough worries that increasing numbers of young white men are being influenced by racist mass killings.
“These kids get the idea that they don’t like black people. There are evil people in this world who want to wake up and kill people. Take mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and uncles from their families. And there’s too much happening,” Hough said.
She said if people make it out of Buffalo, that’s an achievement. She and other survivors and activists are calling for more job opportunities for black people.
“If you get out of Buffalo and you’re successful, you deserve a lot of credit,” Hough said. “I feel like the state and government designed Buffalo that way; Nobody is motivated to try.”
And she’s still waiting for the government to do something about gun violence in the country.
“This is America, this is what they do. Before that there was one more and another. And it’s the same cycle: Nothing is done for the people and nothing is done about gun violence.”