‘This is their Emmett Till moment’: Buffalo residents react to racially motivated mass shooting

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Community members gather outside the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue May 14, 2022, after a white male shot and killed 10 people, most of whom were Black. Authorities have called the mass shooting a hate crime. (Tom Dinki / WBFO News)

BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – Mari lives just around the corner from the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue.

“Me and my son come into Tops every day to get him a snack or something,” he said.

Mari, who didn’t wish to give his last name, estimates he missed Saturday’s mass shooting there by about five minutes.

“I was coming down the street, coming to go to the Tops, and I see all these cops coming, so I stopped,” he said.

Mari and other neighborhood residents were gathered outside Tops Saturday night, more than six hours after an 18-year-old white male shot 13 mostly Black victims, killing 10, in what authorities have called a hate crime.

Some expressed shock that they or their family could have easily been inside the store at the time of the incident, but said they weren’t necessarily surprised that a mass shooting had finally happened in Buffalo, or that a gunman would target a predominantly Black neighborhood of the city.

“Whatever this guy had on his mind, he completed it today. And this is where we have to ask ourselves: What’s next?” said 34-year-old Michael Walker, one of several bystanders gathered on Landon Street facing the taped-off grocery store parking lot.

He lamented the fact that Buffalo was now the site of one of the deadliest incidents of racial violence in recent U.S. history.

“This is their Emmett Till moment. This is their George Floyd moment,” he said. “So for it to happen to us, now we’re unfortunately a part of that list.”

Walker’s mother, Misty Walker, said she went to high school with one of the victims, Tops security guard and retired Buffalo Police officer Aaron Salter. Both graduated from Hutchinson Central Technical in 1984.

When Misty Walker first learned of the shooting, she thought of Salter.

“I knew he was still working there and I know people who are retired Buffalo Police officers and they said, ‘Yeah, he died, he got shot,’” she said. “He survived almost 30 years of being a police officer in Buffalo. So to get killed at a grocery store on a second job as a security guard is ridiculous.”

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Salter fired at and hit the gunman, but the gunman was wearing tactical gear that prevented the bullets from doing any damage. The gunman then returned fire and killed Salter, who was Black.

Misty Walker hopes the city will honor Salter as they would a cop killed in the line of duty.

She also hopes that their fellow Hutch Tech Class of ’84 member, U.S. Attorney Trini Ross, can prosecute the gunman under the new anti-lynching law signed by President Biden in March. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act allows people to be prosecuted for lynching when they conspire to commit a hate crime that results in death or serious bodily injury.

“Not only just because this is a fellow classmate, but I would hope that law will be used and he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” Misty Walker said.

Ross said Saturday that the shooting will be investigated as a hate crime.

The alleged gunman, Payton Gendron of Broome County, so far has been charged with first-degree murder and remanded without bail. A felony hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Gendron’s purported writings have circulated on social media. The 180-page document indicates he targeted the Tops on Jefferson Avenue because it’s located in the city’s predominately Black East Side. Buffalo is consistently ranked as one of the most segregated cities in the nation, according to Census data.

Walker noted the Tops on Jefferson is one of just a few grocery stores on the East Side, parts of which are considered food deserts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Next thing you know this place closes down and we have no next next thing — we only have one other store left,” he said. “And what’s stopping them from shooting that place up and leaving us with no food, no places to go?”

Walker said he thinks it will take an engaged public holding their elected officials accountable to prevent another incident like Saturday’s.

“But as long as we keep doing the same thing, we’re just sitting ducks for the next mass shooting,” he said. “That’s all you can say.”

prayer vigil was planned for Sunday morning outside Tops.