Imagine being so crazed with racial hatred that you’re willing to drive four hours just to murder innocent people who look different than you.
Well, the suspected gunman in Buffalo did just that. On May 14, the 18-year-old drove more than 200 miles from Conklin, N.Y. to Buffalo. Then, he walked into a grocery store in the Black part of town, shouted racial slurs, and opened fire – murdering 10 people and injuring several others.
Before the suspect embarked upon his diabolical rampage, he posted a 180-page “manifesto” citing as inspiration, motivation and justification the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory — the notion of a vast “global conspiracy” (racist/anti-Semitic code word for Jews) to achieve dominance by “importing” people of color to diminish the political power of White people. The N-word had reportedly been etched into the stock of one of his long-barreled automatic weapons.
The obviously disturbed teen’s webpage was deeply infested with racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric. There is no question that the attack was premeditated. He targeted a Black-dominated neighborhood “to kill as many Black people as possible,” his white supremacist actions driven by hardcore, deep-seated hatred.
Reaction was swift from law enforcement and politicians. John Garcia, Erie County sheriff, described the killings as “pure evil,” while Buffalo Mayor Byron White remarked, “It was a straight-up, racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community, outside of the city of good neighbors.” And New York Gov. Kathy Hochul commented, “[I]t is my sincere hope that this individual, this white supremacist who just perpetrated a hate crime on an innocent community, will spend the rest of his days behind bars.”
Individuals like the suspect have soaked up many of the misguided beliefs they hear from right-wing media, the internet and opportunistic politicians. Indeed, Fox News and other right-wing media and radio forums routinely espouse irresponsible theories warning of the White population in America being rapidly overtaken by hordes of non-White immigrants.
“Blood is on their hands, 100%,” anti-racist activist and author Tim Wise wrote in a Twitter thread following the shooting. Wise called for the white supremacist groups to be “sued out of existence for inspiring terrors.”
“Vicarious liability,” Wise added. “End them.”
While violence against Black people isn’t new, and though citizens of color in America have been routinely targeted throughout the country’s history, it will take a long time for Buffalo’s residents, the victims’ families, and perhaps even the shooter’s own kin to fully heal from this senseless tragedy—if they ever do. The same is true of the many people across the racial groups who are demonstrating their support and solidarity and taking a stand against such vehement and violent racial hatred.
In the meantime, what we as a nation can do is make a genuine effort to get to grips with the rabid racial, political, social and economic fragmentation plaguing our nation. We must be valiant in our efforts if we are to rectify and heal such an unhealthy level of potentially destructive stratification.
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University.