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Amid anger and grief, some Black residents of Buffalo are talking about guns

Nolan D. McCaskill, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The gunman who killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo on Saturday took more than lives, residents say.

"He took a lot away from this community other than the lives of these people," said Robin Truesdale, 57, who owns a small business near Tops Friendly Markets, where authorities said Payton Gendron, a white 18-year-old who lived 200 miles away in Conklin, New York, targeted Black shoppers in a racist rampage. "He took away also a much-needed resource ... a part of the economic development for this community."

Tops, which has closed indefinitely, is the only supermarket in the area. Though several groups have donated food and other goods to grieving families, people who were once able to walk to pick up groceries now have to rely on public transportation or other means — indefinitely — at a time when inflation is already at a 40-year high.

Residents describe the East Side as a segregated but tightknit neighborhood where everybody knows one another. Having their neighbors slaughtered during a routine trip to the grocery store in the heart of their community has many of them feeling unsafe, sad and angry. Feeling unprotected in their own neighborhood by government leaders and law enforcement, conversations about guns are quietly occurring among family, friends and neighbors.

While the national dialogue following a mass shooting often turns to gun restrictions and what the president or Congress can do, the conversations happening here are about being able to protect oneself.

"You've got poor Black people who are just trying to make a living," said Cambridge Boyd, CEO of a local nonprofit. "We're trying to survive here, and ain't too much to survive off of. ... We're getting to the point now where the cops are killing us, the racists are killing us, the government — they ain't paying us no attention — so what else y'all want us to do?"

 

Adding to the despair is the toxicity of social media, on which Black residents said they've seen some white people making a mockery of the massacre with quips about a "cleanup" on several store aisles. According to the Washington Post, the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said it has suspended without pay corrections officer Gregory Foster II, who shared the post on Facebook. The department also said it would "identify and discipline any staff who may have engaged" with Foster's post following an internal investigation.

"You don't joke about Black lives being lost in such a violent fashion," said Derek Middlebrooks, 34, who was born and raised here. "You don't joke about this. Because at the end of the day, 10 people died. Ten people got to get buried."

Though Middlebrooks said he's not personally big on guns, he pointed to the hateful social media posts as justification for Black people on the East Side to arm themselves. A veteran who spent nine years in the Army Reserve, he also advised Black people to educate themselves about gun ownership and firearm use.

"We've been getting mowed down for years, shot down, hung and just straight-up slaughtered," Middlebrooks said, "and it's been happening more frequently over the years because they continue to get away with it, which is another reason why we need to arm ourselves."

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