By Sikivu Hutchinson
They came to the Tops grocery store in Buffalo to do the everyday ordinary rituals that are the unseen backbone of Black families and communities everywhere; Sunday food shopping across generations. Quick trips for a certain dinner or dessert item. Showing care in an environment that is often the preserve of women entrusted with cooking day in and day out. Shout outs to familiar faces in an establishment that was hard fought and hard won due to racial segregation and legacies of anti-blackness. Moments later, this normalcy was shattered, their lives snuffed out by a white predator terrorist who had methodically plotted to massacre Black folks on social media for months.
Roberta A. Drury, 32, Margus D. Morrison, 52, Andre Mackniel, 53, Aaron Salter, 55, Geraldine Talley, 62, Celestine Chaney, 65, Heyward Patterson, 67, Katherine Massey, 72, Pearl Young, 77 and Ruth Whitfield, 86.
These beloved family and community members are being grieved and celebrated by African American communities across the nation, reeling from the unspeakable pain and trauma of unrelenting anti-blackness. As Jillian Hanesworth, Buffalo’s poet laureate, said recently, “So many people hate us just because we exist, and we experience that at different levels on a daily basis. We can’t let society gaslight us into thinking that there’s no racism.”
The terrorist pulled the trigger, but the ten Black massacre victims are also victims of the white supremacist nationalist hate propaganda and NRA regime relentlessly promoted by the GOP. Their blood is on its hands.
Pearl Young was a substitute teacher and ran a food pantry. Celestine Chaney was a grandmother and a breast cancer survivor. Aaron Salter was a security guard, a former Buffalo police officer and a hero who tried to stop the murderer. Robert Drury was a caregiver to a brother who had leukemia. Deacon Heyward Patterson provided transportation to folks who needed to get to the store. Margus Morrison was a bus aid. Geraldine Talley was an avid baker and mom. Andre Mackniel was a dad, brother, and uncle who was simply there that afternoon to buy his three year-old son a birthday cake. Katherine “Kat” Massey was a longtime activist-journalist and member of the Black women’s group, “We Are Women Warriors”. She was also a former block club president and prolific letter writer. Massey worked tirelessly to improve her Cherry Street neighborhood. As a result, the community has a mural and tree plantings in its front yards. Last year, she wrote a letter calling for more gun control in her community. She highlighted the deadly role that ghost guns and illegally trafficked firearms played in the uptick of neighborhood shootings. In the same letter, she ironically decried the overemphasis on universal background checks and assault weapons bans, which she viewed as a less effective remedy for urban gun violence. She also alluded to the fact that fear and anxiety over the imminent threat of gun violence in Black neighborhoods is a form of normalized trauma.
In this social media warped culture of instant gratification, letter writing has become a lost art. Massey’s letter writing ranged from spotlighting social justice issues to her favorite television shows. Her friend and fellow community activist Betty Jean Grant noted that, “She was in love with the community and she loved Black people. She would fight for anybody, without a doubt.” Massey was part of a long tradition of Black women activist-journalists who built on Ida B. Wells’ legacy of leadership and service. These elders from the “race women” generation are more invested in giving back by mentoring younger writers than in seeing their latest piece go viral on social media. Indeed, as more local print papers die on the vine, writing for regional publications like Massey did is also a figment of the past.
Since the massacre, there have been renewed calls for tougher gun legislation, as well as crackdowns on and surveillance of white supremacist groups. The terrorist murderer spewed his racist “replacement theory” shit manifesto and shared his horrific plans with others on Twitch, Discord, and 4chan. He is part of a long line of white supremacist terrorists who have effectively been given carte blanche due to the passivity of the federal government, the stranglehold the NRA has on gun control, the influence of de facto terrorist cells like Fox and Newsmax, and the complicity of social media corporations who aid and abet terrorist hate by looking the other way. Gun legislation and penalties for terrorist hate groups are critical to redressing this nightmare, but there must also be continued pushback against right wing efforts to dismantle anti-racist education. Extremist views on the Internet are emblematic of the erasure of BIPOC, queer and women’s histories that K-12 youth encounter every day.
Citizen journalist Katherine Massey and all of the other Black women and men who were ripped from us at Tops last week were the oft unheralded movers and shakers who power our communities through their kindness, compassion, empathy, and sense of “ubuntu” or shared humanity and collectivity. A sick white terrorist lyncher will never be able to negate that.