Don't look away from the 10 Black lives lost in Buffalo to racism and gun violence

·4 min read

Many of us who have lost a loved one know that gut punch of despair when we first witness life going on without them. Our beloved’s voice is forever stilled, our hearts shattered – and yet the sun shines, strangers laugh and weddings go on as planned.

It is the nature of grief to feel isolated, if not abandoned, in mourning. We may yearn for the veil to lift, to rejoin the living, but the timing is not ours. The heart knows what it knows, and it will not be rushed.

This week, the funerals continue in Buffalo, New York. Ten people were killed on May 14 in the bustling Tops Friendly Markets store on Jefferson Avenue. All the victims were Black. More to the point, and we should say this every time, all of them were killed because they were Black.

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Many of us have already moved on from this tragedy, even as it still unfolds for those who grieve. I don’t think most white people are heartless, but I do think too many of us would rather not sit with the uncomfortable truth of these deaths.

Don't look away from monstrous acts of racism lest they thrive

This is one community’s tragedy, but this is America’s problem.

A makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., honors the victims of an attack being investigated as a racist hate crime.
A makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., honors the victims of an attack being investigated as a racist hate crime.

Yet again, an angry young white man from somewhere else decided it was his turn to take a drive and kill innocent Black people where they live. Our every impulse may be to distance ourselves from the gunman, but we must not lower our voices and tiptoe away from his monstrous acts. In our silence, racism thrives.

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Every person is more than the circumstances of their death, and this is certainly true of the innocent people who were fatally shot in Buffalo. We should be talking about who they used to be, before these anguished headlines, just as we would want people to talk about our loved ones when they die.

We’ve heard a lot in recent days about Aaron Salter Jr., 55, a retired police officer working as a security guard that day. He tried to stop the gunman, but he was no match for the heavily armored shooter.

Aaron Salter Jr. with his daughter, Latisha, on a 2016 trip to Stone Mountain, Ga. Salter, a 55-year-old security guard at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, N.Y., was slain in a mass shooting on May 14, 2022.
Aaron Salter Jr. with his daughter, Latisha, on a 2016 trip to Stone Mountain, Ga. Salter, a 55-year-old security guard at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, N.Y., was slain in a mass shooting on May 14, 2022.

This weekend, another story came out about Salter. He had attended Canisius College in the late 1980s and returned for two terms in 2007. He was one course shy of earning his degree in communications. Last Saturday, one week after he was killed trying to protect everyone in the store, the college awarded him a Bachelor of Arts degree.

“His career in the police department and his unbelievable bravery last Saturday, that more than made up for the little three credits he was short of for his Canisius degree,” said the college president, John Hurley.

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At commencement ceremonies, the Class of 2022 gave Aaron Salter Jr. a standing ovation. His son, Aaron Salter III, accepted his diploma.

Another one of the victims was 72-year-old Katherine “Kat” Massey, a champion of civil rights and education and a journalist for a Black-owned newspaper. A year ago this month, Massey wrote a letter that was published in The Buffalo News.

Her topic: The escalating violence in Buffalo.

“Current pursued remedies mainly inspired by mass killings – namely, universal background checks and banning assault weapons – essentially exclude the sources of our city’s gun problems,” she wrote.

Living through racial history, then becoming part of it

A year to the month of writing that letter, Massey was killed by a bullet from the alleged gunman’s assault-style weapon. The 18-year-old was allowed to buy it even though, last June, he had made comments about murder-suicide at his high school and was taken into custody by state police. After a psychological evaluation, he was released.

Months later, authorities say, he bought the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle at Vintage Firearms in Endicott, New York.

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I keep thinking about all that had happened during Katherine Massey's life. When she was 5 years old, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. She was 10 when little Ruby Bridges became the first African American child to integrate an elementary school in the South in 1960. She was 14 when civil rights activists James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were tortured and murdered in 1964 by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi.

Massey lived through Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the assassinations of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. In 2008, she saw Barack Obama elected America’s first Black president.

And now, in 2022, she has died at the hands of a raging white supremacist who should never have been allowed to buy that gun.

USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz 

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Buffalo: Aaron Salter, Katherine Massey among 10 Black lives matter

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