After a mass shooting in Buffalo in May left 10 Black people dead and 3 others injured, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a listening session on Monday in Buffalo to hear from the victims’ families. Many of the family members spoke passionately about how systemic racism played a role in the tragedy.
Outside of Buffalo, this was the first EEOC panel meeting since 2015. Commission chair Charlotte A. Burrows promised to incorporate the findings into the commission’s long-term enforcement strategy.
“I, along with the rest of the United States, was deeply saddened by and outraged by the brutal attack in Buffalo in May. It killed 10 people, most of them children “This is what Burrows said in his introduction. “But we also need sustained, thoughtful, and persistent action to shed light on the underlying injustice and racism that helps create the conditions for racially motivated violence and discrimination. Even strong emotions like grief and rage are insufficient.”
The commission heard from Garnell Whitfield, a retired Buffalo fire commissioner whose mother, Ruth Whitfield, 86, was one of the victims of the massacre at the Tops supermarket in East Buffalo, a predominantly Black neighborhood.
Whitfield said, “I brought only my lived experiences to share with you because I want you to know what it feels like to be traumatized in this manner, not just on May 14, but every day of your life just because the color of your skin.”
He claimed that white police officers abused him and falsely accused him of robbery when he was a teenager. He claimed that in the 1980s, a company officer in the fire department actively worked against his recruitment.
While it may look like success on the outside, according to Whitfield, the truth is much different.
“The truth is, I, like every other Black American, [am] a victim and survivor of racism. We have all been taught to believe in a mythical American dream, but the reality is that we have all been taught to believe in a mythical American nightmare “This, Whitfield remarked. “The trouble is, you keep getting rudely awakened by reality.”
As he continued, “I thought it would help if you had some idea of the struggles we face. No matter what we do with the chances you give us, we always bring our past hurts and failures with us. The trauma has spread throughout our communities. Despite what you may have read or been told, this did not begin on May 14. This is something we’ve had to deal with for our entire lives.”
Similarly, Zaneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman, 20, was injured in the attack, spoke to the commission, saying, “It boggles my mind that I sit here before you today saying the same things that Black people have been saying for centuries.”
She explained that years of discrimination and racism have taken their toll on her son.
“The reality we experience was constructed. Creating a racist society takes planning and forethought. Because of this, the terrorist had no trouble zeroing in on the Black community in Buffalo and causing mayhem among them “It was Everhart who made the remark.
Her son, she said, was working at Tops on the day of the attack and was shot in the neck; he will have to carry the shrapnel for the rest of his life.
He will always remember the pain of an AR-15 bullet ripping through his body, she said. “He also recalls the bodies of the people who were shot and killed in the parking lot of the grocery store where he worked, as well as the killing of a community elder he describes as a wonderful woman. Thus, from this point forward, therapy will be an integral part of his recovery.”
She told the commission, however, that she draws strength from her son’s unyielding spirit.
Goodman said, “After witnessing how Zaire has dealt with this, I am more determined than ever to push for reform.” While lying in the hospital bed after being shot, Zaire told me, “Mom, I knew I’d be fine.”
What’s more, “He is tough as nails. Fifteen days after the massacre, he finally left the house for more than just medical appointments; he wanted to visit the memorial outside of Tops and lay flowers there.”
In addition to her, her son is happy that Tops, East Buffalo’s only major supermarket, has reopened.
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