By Hazel Trice Edney
As President Joe Biden stood amidst the heartbroken in Buffalo, N.Y. calling White supremacy a “poison” in the U.S., historians and scholars of America’s racism not only agreed with him, but outlined specifically how America must change.
“The FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Justice Department have all confirmed that the primary domestic terrorism threat comes from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” writes the Southern Poverty Law Center, a foremost authority on hate in America, in response to the killing of 10 predominately Black shoppers by a White 18-year-old in Buffalo Saturday.
The President, accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, flew into New York Tuesday operating in the role of comforters-in-chief. According to an account from the White House, “the President and First Lady met with family members of the victims, law enforcement and first responders, and local leaders at a community center to offer their condolences and comfort to those affected by this tragedy.”
He declared in a speech: “What happened here is simple and straightforward: Terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism…Violence inflicted in the service of hate and the vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.”
The killer, Payton Gendron, went into the TOPS grocery store where predominantly Black family members did their regular shopping on a daily basis. On Saturday, people were preparing for Sunday dinners, birthday parties or just stopping by the store for snacks and supplies. Gendron shot people in the parking lot on the way in and then proceeded to fire the gun inside, killing more people with a rifle speckled with writing, including racial slurs.
Before he was arrested, he had killed 10 people and injured three others. According to widespread reports, a manager had asked Gendron to leave the store the day before the killings as he loitered inside. He was also investigated by state police less than a year ago after authorities at his high school reported that he made threatening remarks concerning a murder/suicide. He was then examined by a mental hospital but was not charged.
On Tuesday, Biden called on the community to support the victims and survivors and to take action to prevent future tragedies. Namely, he called on Americans to reject the racist white “replacement theory” believed to have inspired the gunman behind the tragic Buffalo shooting and other shootings.
According to a statement by the SPLC, “the attack in Buffalo is the direct result of white nationalist propaganda, specifically the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, being promoted and now mainstreamed by major public figures. This false notion — that white people are being systematically replaced by Black people, immigrants and Jews — has deep historical roots but has gained traction in recent years. And with that traction has come violence, both physical and political.”
The SPLC statement continues, “In recent years we have seen multiple white gunmen commit horrific acts of violence against people of color, Jews, Muslims and immigrants, justified on the premise of the false conspiracy narrative. This time it took an 18-year-old extremist driving over 200 miles to murder 10 innocent people and injure three others – the vast majority who were Black – to bring this lie and its deadly consequences to the national forefront.”
Biden’s appeal for Americans to take stands against White supremacy and to speak up against the wrong of racism, is not enough, he said.
The SPLC agrees. The organization made several recommendations to end the repeated terrorist attacks:
•”It is especially important that politicians, civic leaders and law enforcement officials repudiate dangerous and false conspiracy theories like the ‘great replacement’ theory, which has now moved from far-right extremist spaces into the political mainstream. Despite its clearly violent implications, far too many politicians and pundits now repeat the myth regularly.”
•”Federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, should provide more resources for programs and processes for early intervention. Programs in these areas should focus on extended support for victims, survivors and targeted communities more broadly, as the trauma resulting from racially motivated violence often reverberates widely.”
•”Congress should immediately enact the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (S.964/H.R. 350) to establish offices within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to monitor, investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism — and require regular reports from these offices.”
•”Tech companies must create — and enforce — terms of service and policies to ensure that social media platforms, payment service providers and other internet-based services do not provide forums where hateful activities and extremism can grow and lead to domestic terrorism. Social media platforms and online payment service providers must act to disrupt the funding of hate online to prevent their services from helping to incubate and bankroll terrorists and extremism,” The SPLC recommended.
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, Biden read off the names of each of the dead, giving brief descriptions of their errands that day or something about their lives:
As a nation, I say to the families: We remember them. We’ve been reading about them. We visited the memorial where…the show of the love for them.:
•“Celestine Chaney, 65 years old. Brain cancer survivor. Churchgoer. Bingo player. Went to buy strawberries to make her favorite shortcake. A loving mother and a grandmother.”
•“Roberta Drury, 32. Beloved daughter and sister. Moved back home to help take care of her brother after his bone marrow transplant. She went to buy groceries for dinner. The center of attention who made everyone in the room laugh and smile when she walked in.”
•Andre Mackneil, 53. Worked at a restaurant. Went to buy his three-year-old son a birthday cake. His son [celebrating] a birthday, asking, “Where is Daddy?”• Katherine Massey, 72. A writer and an advocate who dressed up in costumes at schools and cut the grass in the park and helping local elections. The glue of the family and the community.
•Margus Morrison, 52. School bus aide. Went to buy snacks for a weekly movie night with the family. Survived by his wife and three children and his stepdaughter. The center of their world.
•Heyward Patterson, 67. Father. Church deacon. Fed the homeless at the soup kitchen. Gave rides to the grocery store to neighbors who needed help. Putting food in the trunk of others when he took his final breath.
•Aaron Salter, 55. Retired Buffalo police officer for three decades. Three decades. Loved electric cars. A hero who gave his life to save others on a Saturday afternoon. And had that man not been wearing that vest that he purchased – bulletproof vest – a lot of lives would have been saved. A beloved father and husband.
•Geraldine Talley, 62. Expert [baker]. And known for her warm, gentle personality. A friend to everybody. Devoted mother and grandmother.
•Ruth Whitfield, 88. Beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother who sang in the church choir. A caretaker of her husband, bringing him clean clothes, cutting his hair, holding his hand every day she visited him in the nursing home. Heart as big as her head.
•Pearl Young, 77. A mother, grandmother, missionary of God. Public school teacher who also ran a local food pantry. Loved singing, dancing, and her family.
Biden continued, “And all three are injured: Zaire Goodman, 20. Shot in the neck but fighting through it. Jennifer Warrington, 50. Christopher Braden, 55. Both treated with injuries, on a long road to recovery.”
The President concluded, “Jill and I bring you this message from deep in our nation’s soul: In America, evil will not win — I promise you. Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word.”