Op-Ed: The Buffalo community in mourning

Originally published in Ken-Ton Bee on May 25, 2022.

On May 14, an 18-year-old white supremacist went to a supermarket in the City of Buffalo to kill members of Buffalo’s Black community. Ten lives were lost, three were injured, and our entire community was left heartbroken. Celestine Chaney, Roberta A. Drury, Andre Mackniel, Katherine Massey, Margus D. Morrison, Heyward Patterson, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Ruth Whitfield, Pearl Young. We say their names and we remember their lives.

We’ve become disturbingly accustomed to mass shootings in America. After each one, we’re conditioned to think, “How could something like this happen?” But we know why this happened. It’s the same thing that happened at a historically Black church in Charleston in 2015, at a gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016 and at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018: People were murdered by a hateful individual who saw them as a threat to his way of life.

If we ever want to see the end of these attacks, we need to come together and address the many problems that combine to make them possible. In Buffalo, the killer was a self-professed white supremacist radicalized by a conspiracy theory that has crept its way into the mainstream talking points we hear from some of our country’s most influential right-wing voices. Those who have pointed this out have been met with the tired refrain: “Don’t politicize a tragedy.” But I want to be clear – the condemnation of hateful rhetoric should never be viewed as a political act. All of our leaders, at every point along the political spectrum, should be emphatic in repudiating the “great replacement” as a baseless conspiracy theory. Anyone who continues peddling this lie is complicit in every act of terrorism it inspires.

We need to stop the spread of hateful rhetoric in general, whether it’s on cable news, on social media sites or in our daily lives. But there are other steps that need to be taken as well. We need to call these attacks what they are – domestic terrorism – and we need to acknowledge that civilians do not need access to weapons of war and armor-plated tactical gear.

In the wake of the tragedy, Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced plans to address gun violence, confront white supremacist ideology and investigate the social media companies that far too often fuel domestic terrorism in communities across our nation. Among the actions the governor announced were steps to strengthen New York’s red flag law to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals and establish new units to investigate threats of domestic terrorism and curb radical extremism. These are smart steps to address the gun violence that pervades our society.

In the closing days of the state legislative session, I strongly support the Senate and Assembly taking action to improve safety and make it easier for law enforcement to investigate gun crimes. We must meet this moment to ensure lasting change and make New York a safer place, especially for the communities of color who are often the target of hate and violence.