Senator Sean Ryan Commemorates Two-Year Anniversary of May 14 Racist Mass Shooting Attack on Buffalo


It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since we were standing here talking about the tragedy in Buffalo that took 10 lives on May 14, 2022.

I have a vivid remembrance of that day, because it was a beautiful, sunny day. It was one of the first weekend days where it was warm and we were coming out of our winter hibernation. People are running errands, the streets are full of people in cars and walking around. I went into the backyard for a few hours and left my cell phone in the kitchen – I was doing yard work, and I started hearing a helicopter buzzing over and over, and then I started hearing a lot of sirens. My wife came out and said, “You better come inside, because your phone is blowing up.” And it’s not what I expected when I picked up that phone.

We know the story. A murderous racist drove two and a half hours – seemingly for no reason – to come to Buffalo to open fire on innocent people at a supermarket. Celestine Chaney, Roberta Drury, Andre Mackneil, Kathrine Massey, Margus Morrison, Heyward Patterson, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Ruth Whitfield, and Pearl Young – they all lost their lives within minutes that day. Christopher Braden, Zaire Goodman, and Jennifer Warrington – they were all wounded, but miraculously survived.

The only thing any of these people did to make them a target that day was to go live their ordinary lives, and go shopping at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Two years have passed, but the memory is still just as fresh. It’s just as raw. For the families of the victims, the grief hasn’t gone away. For the survivors, the trauma hasn’t gone away. For our entire Buffalo community, the anger, the sorrow, the losses we all feel – hasn’t gone away.

But I guess it’s not supposed to go away. When we experience loss, grief doesn’t dissipate over time. If you lose somebody and someone says, “It’ll get better, it’ll go away,” that’s a lie. It doesn’t go away. What happens is, we grow our life around it. We take that pain, we hold on to it, but we move forward, because that’s what we have to do. We learn how to live with the grief. We don’t let it hold us back, but it doesn’t go away.

On May 14, 2022, the white supremacist came to our city with one goal, and that was to tear a hole in the heart of the Black community. And there’s no doubt, he opened up a painful wound. On that awful day, it was hard to see past the tragedy at hand. But even today, the pain is never far from the minds of those who lost loved ones, and Buffalo’s Black community, who witnessed a direct attack – they feel it every day.

But in our collective grief, Buffalo has come together. With time, the community has begun to get back on its feet, and while we continue to mourn the losses, the people of the East Side are persevering. They’re living their lives. They’re celebrating birthdays, wedding anniversaries, holidays, graduations, and weddings. But each of those remembrances, each of those celebrations – there’s something missing from everybody. Because something was taken that day that can never be put back. But every day, the people are sending a clear message – that one hateful act, no matter how much pain it caused, will not rip apart and break the spirit of our community.

But the tragedy – it didn’t happen in a vacuum. The East Side of Buffalo, which is home to what we call Black Buffalo, has had much more to contend with than this awful catastrophic day. The attack was layered upon decades of grinding, persistent, systemic racism. African Americans came to Buffalo, as part of the Great Migration, full of hope with job opportunities, to work in the steel and auto industries, to fill a labor need. But they were met with the North’s version of Jim Crow. It’s not as obvious, it’s not as pernicious, but boy is it every bit as destructive. They were met with redlining, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and – decades later – still, persistent segregation. May 14 was the exclamation of a slow-moving tragedy.

So, while the community has slowly recovered from the attack, the baseline that they’re returning to is as much of a problem today as it was two years ago. The area is still a food desert. The neighborhood is still barren from decades of demolitions and disinvestment. Every social indicator – whether it’s individual wealth, family wealth, homeownership, health outcomes – Black Buffalonians on the East Side are worse off than anyone else in the whole city.

So, we’re left with the important question to ponder: What are we going to do about it? Will this tragedy catalyze us? Will it make us address the issues that have been weighing down Buffalo and other cities’ communities for decades?

I’m optimistic. I think we’re finally starting to move in the right direction. We have a lot of work to do as a state and as a country, but we’re finally recognizing the institutional racism that led to the inequality that we see today. But real change – it’s going to come slow, and it’s only going to come if we all work together, and we’re all pulling in the same direction.

Jillian Hanesworth was Buffalo’s first poet laureate. She wrote a poem called “Water” where she talks about that reality. The poem was installed at Tops supermarket as part of the in-store memorial to the victims of the shooting. The poem is a hopeful call to all of us in the community to recognize that we all have a part to do and, as Jillian puts it, “even our small marks on this huge world are necessary.” But let me read it to you in Jillian Hanesworth’s words – and I don’t know where she finds her optimism, but I applaud her for it.

By Jillian Hanesworth

Let the hopeful healing waters flow
Ushering in a rebirth of our sense of self
Let the flowing waters remind us of time
Current yet fleeting like life itself
Large yet within reach just as the ancestors

Let the hopeful healing waters flow
Cleansing all pain and fear
All hurt and regret
Let the water heal our people
Reminding us that even our small marks
on this huge world are necessary

Let the hopeful healing waters flow
Let the water tell the stories of those who came before us
Those who fought and believed for us
Those with the strength and power of a high tide
Those with the meekness of a still pond
Let the beauty of the unknown offer comfort and hope
For within water there will always be life