Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Thanks for being with us today.
Yesterday at 2:28 PM, the City of Buffalo paused as bells from the city's churches told to mark one year since an 18-year-old white man, armed with an assault rifle, drove three hours from his home in Conklin, New York to a Tops grocery store in Buffalo's East Side. The only purpose of his trip was to shoot and kill Black people.
In a matter of minutes, this racist gunman brutally murdered Roberta Drury, Margus Morrison, Andre Mackniel, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey, Ruth Whitfield, and Pearl Young. The shooter also injured three more people in the store that day.
Mayor Byron Brown: The feeling of pain, and hurt, and sorrow since 5/14 is always just below the surface.
Melissa Harris-Perry: This is Byron Brown. He's mayor of Buffalo, New York. It's a role he's served in since 2006. I spent some time with Mayor Brown this weekend when I visited Buffalo as part of the city's commemoration of the Black lives stolen last year by racist violence at the Tops grocery store.
Mayor Byron Brown: When I think about it, when I talk about it, the tears can flow, and as mayor, you want to be tough, and strong, and hold it together, so I don't let the tears flow in public, but in the shower, in the morning and at night, that's when I let the tears flow.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Many in Buffalo feel that their losses were quickly forgotten in the brutal torrent of gun violence, which has filled the year since this shooting. Indeed, it was less than two weeks after the Buffalo Massacre when a 19-year-old gunman took the lives of 21 children and teachers in classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. No one in Buffalo has forgotten, and this weekend brought with it painful memories of loss and terror.
Mayor Byron Brown: This should not be happening in the United States of America, where innocent children, innocent seniors are having their lives snatched from them. This year alone, over 200 mass shootings in our country, and only 134 days in the year.
Since May 14th, 2022, in the City of Buffalo, the horrible mass shooting that we're talking about today, there have been more than 650 additional mass shootings in this country. Something has to be done. It's not getting better, it's getting worse. The feelings, the anger, the pain, the anguish sometimes is hard to process.
This has been a very painful period for our community, probably one of the darkest times in the entire history of the City of Buffalo, so I want to make sure that this weekend of reflection and remembrance is done in a way that will properly honor the precious lives that were taken, those who were injured that survived, and those who were in the store and on the street on Jefferson Avenue that survived.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The Buffalo Massacre is not simply an example of America's rampant gun violence. It's a story about American racism, and it's connected to a long history of deadly racial terror in America. The 18-year-old white man whose deadly Rampage killed 10 and wounded 3, was an avowed white supremacist. He was raised more than three hours away from Buffalo in the overwhelmingly white town of Conklin, New York. Now sentenced to life in prison, the killer was radicalized online, penned a nearly 200-page racist manifesto, and live streamed his murderous attack, but his crimes were made possible by a mundane entrenched form of American racism, residential segregation.
You see, the killer wanted to murder Black people, and he knew this store would be filled with Black people, because it was the sole grocery store in a vastly predominantly Black community easily identified by zip code.
Mayor Byron Brown: Public policy in America has shaped a lot of communities, and the history and the legacy of segregation can be seen all across the United States. Yes, this murderer came to Buffalo with the expressed intent to kill as many Black people as possible, and it was an attack on Buffalo's Black community, but talking to many friends and colleagues all across the country, because of the intent, because of the methodology, it felt like an attack on all of Black America.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Back in 2022, just days after the massacre, we talked with Historian Jelani Cobb, who's a staff writer at The New Yorker, and Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism. Like Mayor Brown, Professor Cobb understood the attack as directed toward Black people more broadly. He offered historical context for that brutality by returning us to the Red Summer of 1919.
Historian Jelani Cobb: In that summer, we saw mass attacks on Black people in cities across the country in reaction to a number of dynamics, including the nascent great migration, Black people gaining a foothold in employment in industrial sectors, et cetera, and an attempt to literally beat them back into submission. We talk about the Red Summer of 1919, but it's really shorthand for the entire era. The East St. Louis massacre happened in 1917. The Elaine, Arkansas, Massacre happened in 1921. Tulsa happened in 1921. It was a intense time period in which we saw an upswing of racial violence directed at Black communities.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're going to take a quick pause right here, back with more on one year since the Buffalo Massacre, in just a moment.
We're back and continuing our conversation commemorating one year since the massacre in Buffalo, New York.
Dean Cobb also situated the Buffalo shooter within a more recent history of deadly hate-fueled violence by white supremacists. The 2015 murders at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, the deadly anti-Semitic attack on Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, the targeting of Latino shoppers in a murderous rampage in 2019 in an El Paso, Texas Walmart.
Historian Jelani Cobb: I think we've seen this pattern frequently enough to be able to recognize the details of it. One of the things that was particularly notable is that, now, the manifesto has become the accessory du jour for the mass murderer. These badly written screeds about racial jeopardy and the need to defend white people, that's one of the common themes we saw in everything left behind by these killers in each of those instances. I think that both in the sense of the history, the grand sweep of history in the United States, and in the sense of the immediate pattern we've seen in the last decade, there's no real way to be surprised at any of this. Not if you've been paying the least bit of attention.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Perhaps the long history and recent uptick in racist violence means we're no longer surprised, but we do continue to wrestle with trying to understand why.
Here, again, is Buffalo's mayor, Byron Brown.
Mayor Byron Brown: What were the conditions that allowed this hatred to build up, that allowed these feelings of white supremacy, these fears of white replacement to be so strong that an 18-year-old man would travel hundreds of miles away from home, and to try to kill, and kill other people?
Melissa Harris-Perry: During my visit to Buffalo, I spoke with leaders who'd been on the ground every single day of the last difficult year. They're working to interrupt violence, to feed community members who were left for months without a grocery store. They're demanding accountability from courts and elected leaders. Their work is motivated, not by hate, but by courage, steely determination, and abiding love.
Mayor Byron Brown: Oftentimes, when things like this happen, communities turn on each other, people break things, the anger erupts. They burn things. They attack each other. In Buffalo, in the aftermath of this, people came together to pray, to hold hands, to lift each other up, to embrace the families of those whose lives were taken, to embrace the survivors, the families of the survivors, to bring food, to find ways to try to make the community better, to direct investment. The strength, the resilience, the togetherness, the love that Buffalo has shown after this most horrific event has been a model for the nation and a model for the world. I'm very proud of that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Indeed, Professor Jelani Cobb pointed to the necessity of this work during our conversation last year. Still reeling from the deadly brutality, his prescient comments to me were a reminder that charitable acts of service would be necessary but insufficient, and that the Buffalo Massacre was calling us to deeper generational work of organizing for justice. That work is rooted in the lives, labors, and legacy of generations who go before us.
Historian Jelani Cobb: We have benefited so tremendously from the work of a previous generation. We had struggles, we had things we had to do, but the rudiments, the fundamentals were in place because of the work that had been done before us. We're now in a place where we actually have to get out and secure that future for ourselves, or retain, regain that future for ourselves and for generations that come after us. It's a sobering awareness. By no means do I think we can underestimate the scale of the work that is in front of us.
At the same token, we admire W E B Du Bois, we admire Anna Julia Cooper, we admire Ida B. Wells-Barnett for what they did precisely in moments like these, not for what they did in moments of comfort and ease. That's the reason that we've created this canon that includes those people, because we had some understanding that their example would be useful for us in some future moment. Now we find ourselves in that moment.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We find ourselves now in that moment. Our thanks to Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo for taking the time to sit down and reflect with me this weekend. Thank you again to Historian Jelani Cobb, Dean of the School of Journalism at Columbia University, for his enduring insights shared during our conversation last year.
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