Conklin, Binghamton residents react differently to racist attack in Buffalo

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The alleged gunman who killed 10 people in a racist attack in a Buffalo grocery store this weekend is from Conklin, New York. Residents of the small, mostly white town largely expressed shock at the attack.

Some Black residents in nearby Binghamton are less surprised. They’re still processing feelings of fear and anger.

Jimay’s flea market, in Conklin. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

 

“It’s such a small town, and everybody’s shocked that it has happened”

Jimay’s flea market is a few miles from the alleged shooter’s family home in Conklin.

Tammy Clapper has worked at Jimay’s for over thirty years. She’s now one of the owners. She said she recognized the alleged shooter because he used to occasionally shop at the flea market. Some of the vendors and workers there know him.

Tammy Clapper and Don Reigel, owners of Jimay’s Flea Market. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

“They’re shocked. It’s such a small town, and everybody’s shocked that it has happened,” Clapper said.

Tony Nard is a vendor at Jimay’s. He said Conklin residents are confused and surprised by the attack.

“When it hits this close to home, it really is equally painful. You just wonder why…what causes somebody to have that much hatred, it just, to me it’s just not comprehensible,” Nard said.

Conklin is about 95 percent white according to 2020 census data. It’s a 15-minute drive from Binghamton, a city where black residents make up about 12 percent of the population.

Greater Good Grocery, in Binghamton’s North Side. (Sarah Gager/WSKG)

 

“I’m not shocked by it. I experience it.”

Greater Good Grocery in Binghamton’s North Side, serves mostly Black residents. Like the store that was attacked in Buffalo, it’s also in a food desert.

Kinya Middleton is a Black woman and the general manager of Greater Good.

Middletown has found herself thinking about whether she, her staff, and customers are at risk. She said she’s a spiritual person, and she prays to God to keep her and her employees safe. She’s suddenly aware of the size of the windows, and whether she’d be able to see someone coming. She caught herself doing things differently in the morning, around the time her employees come in.

“Usually, I leave the door open for them. And I didn’t this morning. I locked it, and waited for them to call me or knock, then I let them in. Just a different awareness,” Middleton said.

Kinya Middleton, general manager of Greater Good Grocery. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Middleton said it feels like a loss of innocence to be thinking that way. But she’s not surprised by the shootings in Buffalo. She experiences racism every day. She described the last election cycle as “a living hell.”

“I felt like it was just free rein for anyone to say anything they want and it was just like, whatever, you know. So to me, no, I’m not shocked by it. I experience it. Like I said, I experience that all the time. So I’m not shocked,” Middleton said.

Joe Sellepack is the executive director of the Broome County Council of Churches, which runs Greater Good. He said after the attack, he and Middleton began discussing the need for greater security in the store.

Joe Sellepack, executive director of the Broome County Council of Churches, which runs Greater Good. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Sellepack, who is white, said that he feels real changes need to be made to reckon with the racism inherent in attacks like the shooting in Buffalo.

“Until the white community owns the fact that these kids can come from our families, that they are not just anomalies, that we all hold within ourselves the ability, not only to act violently, but also to kill people,” Sellepack said. “You know, until that is owned, and really acted upon, I feel like we’re going to constantly be having these problems.”

 

Centenary-Chenango Street United Methodist Church, in Binghamton’s North Side. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

 

“He didn’t have to drive three hours to Buffalo”

Centenary-Chenango Street United Methodist Church is also in Binghamton’s North Side, less than a 10-minute walk from Greater Good.

Inside the church, Bishop Mario Williams and Pastor Henry Ausby discuss the attack and how best to help their congregants process it. Both minister to members of Binghamton’s Black community.

Bishop Mario Williams and Pastor Henry Ausby. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Williams is the Bishop of River of Life ministries. He said over the weekend, he was approached at a grocery store by one member of his congregation.

“She approached me with her daughter, tears welled up in her eyes, as did mine. And she asked me the question, she goes, ‘Bishop, how do we forgive? And it was so moving and touching, you know, and I tried to keep my composure as well,” Williams said.

Ausby is the Pastor at Hands of Hope ministries. He said the fact that the alleged gunman was from so close by has caused fear among his congregation as well.

“Because this young man, he didn’t have to drive three hours to Buffalo. What if he had decided he didn’t want to go that far, and he could stop right here, you know, he could have done the same thing here. So that has to be on your mind,” Ausby said.

Williams and Ausby say they’re both working to help their congregants process the attack. They plan to meet with elected officials to push for action and regulation, in the hopes that it could prevent further racist violence.

“It’s like, here we go again,” Ausby said. “This has happened before, when is it going to stop? And when are our elected leaders really going to do something significant to stop this?”