BUFALA, New York – Shena Ann Washington and her close friend cleared a small piece of grass at the base of a pillar on Riley Street. They dug a hole there and planted a seedling of a red rose bush. 10 prayer candles were leaning against the pillar nearby.
Washington said it chose the place to honor the memory of the victims of last weekend’s massacre at Tops Friendly Market because it is closest to the entrance to the store, which it has always used as an employee of Instacart, a food delivery service.
Sometimes as she walked out of the store, Aaron Salter Jr., a murdered retired police officer who worked as a security guard at Tops, was helping Washington return to her car with grocery orders, she said.
The shooter, whose racist attack severely hurt the Black community in eastern Buffalo, stole much more than the only grocery store in the area, and the sense of calm that many residents felt in the cherished community gathering place.
“He took away people who did for the community, just because of the color of their skin. It opens my eyes. It’s a reality test, “Washington said.
During Sunday service, Pastor Russell Bell of the State Tabernacle of the Church of God in Christ, where the deacon was the victim of the Hayward Patterson shooting, promised his congregation that they would celebrate his life. Bell also encouraged his flock, mostly blacks, to adhere to their faith.
“We will be winners if we endure to the end,” he said.
Just over a week ago a white gunman in a body armor killed 10 black shoppers and workers at a supermarket that was temporarily closed. Three others were injured in the attack, which the federal government is investigating as a hate crime.
Long before the 18-year-old, who admitted that supporters of white supremacy terrorize the community, the black neighborhoods of Buffalo, like many others across the country, dealt with wounds, older generations. According to residents, business owners and religious leaders, the attack scraped a scab that hides black injuries and neglect that are just below the surface in the so-called city of good neighbors.
Healing will require not only an immediate flow of charity, but also systemic solutions, economic investment and ongoing mental health counseling, they said.
“I have to say, it was great to see an outpouring of support,” said Jackie Stover Steats, co-owner of Golden Cup Coffee, about a block from Tops on Jefferson Avenue.
The last few days the atmosphere around her shop has been a festival and sometimes a gloomy space of mourning. Organizations from all over the country and even several global charities offered food and other necessities to residents who relied on Tops to meet their basic needs.
“The only concern is that it’s short-lived,” Stover Steats said. “It would be much more if we could see on Monday that all those people who have the funds who have come to say how sorry they are could show this by investing in our area.”
Buffalo, with a population of 255,000, 47% white, 35% black, 12% Hispanic and 6% Asian, is one of the most racial cities in the country. The neighborhoods around the Tops market are predominantly black and poor.
Earlier this week, civil rights leader Rev. El Sharpton pointed to racial and socioeconomic inequality that has made the upper classes a target for shooters who officials say have traveled hundreds of miles to find black people to be shot.
“If there wasn’t just one supermarket in the Black community, he wouldn’t have gone to Tops,” Sharpton said at a prayer vigil held in Buffalo for the families of the victims Thursday.
“If you can figure out how to get millions of dollars for a stadium, you can’t figure out how to get a supermarket,” Sharpton added, referring to a $ 1.4 billion new home planned for Buffalo Bills to be funded in mostly by taxpayers.
La’Tris Anderson of Buffalo SNUG, an organization to prevent gun violence, along with other volunteers covered the neighborhood around Tops to understand the needs of residents. Some told her they needed groceries, toiletries, replacement appliances and even a paid utility bill.
“I wish I had a magic wand,” she said. “There were so many needs before this (arrow) happened.”
Without real investment in the area surrounding the Tops, Anderson said, “I don’t think we’ll ever be completely cured of that.”
Residents will definitely need another version of the supermarket, as some have promised never to set foot in this place again Tops, she added. They are too traumatized.
Resolutely Chapel, a black therapist and associate professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Central Florida, said the shock and grief caused by shooting at a supermarket is exacerbated when people don’t take care of their mental health. Systemic racism is one of the reasons why too few in the black community seek mental health counseling, regularly or after a tragedy, she said.
“Every time something like this happens, it opens up wounds again,” Chapel said. “We are not taught to acknowledge negative feelings. Those who need more help will definitely not ask for it. “
Mental health counseling and grief are the reason why several NGOs have been located near the supermarket for several days. With Tops fencing, organizations such as Feed Buffalo, Ramp Global Missions and LIFE Camp Inc., have lined the surrounding streets with food trucks, mobile food pantries and barbecue grills serving chicken, burgers and hot dogs.
The trio of masseurs offered neck and back treatments to the families of the victims and other residents. Local Starbucks handed out free coffee to passers-by.
The evangelist baptized people in a large galvanized tank at the corner of Riley Street and Jefferson Avenue. Near the supermarket, the local Muslim community offered prayers and sang “We are with you.”
Gregory Jackson Jr., a Washington-based organizer from the Community Justice Action Foundation, said he came to Buffalo to help coordinate efforts to help the families and residents of victims who were too traumatized to ask for what they needed.
“Many people are not even close to returning to normal life,” he said. “You get local police, cameras and media from all over the world. But the community was stuck to collect the pieces without any more support. ”
The shooting at the supermarket also garnered support from activists across the country. On Saturday, organizers from Black Lives Matter Grassroots, the national team of executives, held a vigil for Buffalo. Organizers from Boston, Detroit, Virginia Beach, Virginia and Minneapolis attended and vowed to be with Buffalo residents as they continue to recover from the racist attack.
“We can’t have a world that steals our grandmothers’ lives, ”said Melina Abdullah, who runs the BLM group and founded its Los Angeles office. “We have a duty to close it.”
Morrison writes about race and justice for the AP race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.
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