Relatives of Buffalo Massacre victims speak out against systemic racism

BUFFALO, NY — Spurred by the racially motivated mass shooting in May that left 10 dead and three others injured, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a listening session in Buffalo on Monday to hear from relatives of the victims who pointed out in emotional statements that systemic racism played a major role in the massacre.

It was the first time since 2015 that the EEOC panel held a meeting outside of Buffalo. Committee Chair Charlotte A. Burrows is committed to incorporating what the commission has learned into its multi-year strategic implementation plan.

“Like most Americans, I mourned the tragedy and condemned that brutal attack in Buffalo in May. And it claimed the lives of 10 innocent people,” Burrows said in an opening statement. “But to bring to light the underlying injustice and racism that contribute to creating the conditions for racially motivated violence and discrimination, we also need sustained, thoughtful and persistent action. Sorrow and anger are not enough.”

Members of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gather in Buffalo on August 22, 2022 and hear from relatives of those who were shot in the May 14 mass shooting at Tops Grocery in East Buffalo.

William D. Hutchinson/ABC News

Garnell Whitfield, a retired Buffalo fire marshal whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, was among those killed in the rampage at the Tops supermarket in the predominantly black neighborhood of East Buffalo, told the commission that the racism just didn’t show up. its ugly head on May 14.

“I have only brought my lived experiences to share with you because I want you to know what it feels like to be traumatized in this way, not just on May 14, but every day of your life just because of the color of your skin,” says Whitfield.

He said that as a teenager he was wrongfully accused of theft and abused by white police officers. He said a fire company officer tried to sabotage his ability to join the fire service in the 1980s.

Whitfield said while he might seem successful on the surface, his reality is a different story.

“The truth is, like all other black Americans, I am a victim and survivor of racism, treated differently and under constant pressure to shut up and ignore the relentless barrage of prejudice, implicit and otherwise, just to hear, just to fit in — and just maybe get a piece of that so-called dream you’ve been taught to believe in,” Whitfield said. “The problem is, reality keeps waking you up.

He continued, “I thought it was important for you to know what we are going through. No matter what opportunity you give us, we come to this opportunity with baggage, with trauma. Our communities have been traumatised. All the stats, all the stuff you hear, it didn’t just start on May 14. We’ve lived with it our whole lives.”

Zaneta Everhart, whose 20-year-old son Zaire Goodman was injured in the attack, also addressed the committee, saying: “It amazes me that I am sitting here in front of you today saying the same things black people have been saying for centuries.”

PICTURED: Zaneta Everhart, whose 20-year-old son Zaire Goodman was injured in the attack, speaks to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Buffalo August 22, 2022.

Zaneta Everhart, whose 20-year-old son Zaire Goodman was injured in the attack, speaks to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Buffalo August 22, 2022.

William D. Hutchinson/ABC News

“What’s going on in my community and in communities, just like the East Side of Buffalo across the country, is violence,” Everhart said. “Resource starvation, lack of education, poor health system, dilapidated housing, few job opportunities, food insecurity, limited transportation, red lines, lack of green spaces. Not having sidewalks. That’s violence.”

She said her son is now living with the results of decades of inequality and unchecked racism.

“The world we live in is designed. Systemic racism is a calculated construct. That’s why it was so easy for the terrorist to find black people here in Buffalo and sow terror,” Everhart said.

She said her son, who worked at Tops on the day of the attack, was shot in the neck and will have to live with shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life.

“He is left with the memory of feeling his flesh torn apart by a bullet from an AR-15,” she said. “He is also left with the memory of seeing an elder from his community, who he said was a wonderful woman, being shot right in front of him as well as the memory of bodies lying dead in the parking lot of the grocery store where he He was working, so therapy will now be an integral part of his healing journey.

But she also told the commission that her ability to stay strong came from her son’s resilience.

“Seeing the way Zaire handled all of this gave me the strength to advocate for change,” Goodman said. “The first thing Zaire said to me after he was shot while lying in his hospital bed was, ‘Mom, I knew I would be fine.'”

She added: “He’s resilient. Apart from going to see doctors, the first time he really got out of the house was 15 days after the massacre and he wanted to go to the memorial in front of Tops to lay down some flowers.”

She said her son was also thrilled the Tops store, East Buffalo’s only major food market, had reopened.

“While he realizes that the scene there is a source of pain for so many in the community, he feels that the reopening of the store shows the terrorist that he cannot destroy our community,” said Goodman.

ABC News

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