'Exhausting and it's infuriating': Months after the racist Buffalo supermarket shooting, the Black residents there are grappling with the trauma of the reopening and recent threats
- Tops grocery store reopened to the Buffalo community months after the deadly mass shooting in May.
- It included renovations as well as a memorial as an ode to the victims who lost their lives in the attack.
For some residents in Buffalo, New York, the reopening of Tops — a local supermarket that was the target of a hate crime in May where a white gunman killed 10 people and left three others wounded — is both traumatic and necessary.
"There's no way to emotionally prepare yourself for someone coming into a Black community in your city and just massacring it," Jillian Hanesworth, the city's poet laureate who was born and raised on the east side of the city, told Insider in a recent interview.
The supermarket, Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue, reopened its doors last month after a lengthy renovation, which included emergency exits and evacuation alarms — a decision that has been met with different reactions from the community, The Associated Press reported.
"We felt very comfortable early on that people needed and wanted a store as soon as we could possibly provide it," Tops President John Persons told NPR last month. "We also understood that we needed to take steps to give them the best possible food retail store that we could, and for it to be different, for it to look different, feel different, something to be proud of that would serve them better."
However, Buffalo is still reeling from the aftermath of the attack — similar to other communities that recently experienced the impact of gun violence this year, such as Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois, and were left to pick up the pieces after a mass shooting.
In this community, Tops is one of the only full-service grocery stores in the area and — as a result — a necessity in a neighborhood experiencing, food insecurity and racial disparities in housing and schools. For instance, federal data shows the overall unemployment rate in the city is 3.6%, which is about the same as the national average of 3.5%.
However, unemployment among Black residents is 11 percent, according to a 2021 study by the University of Buffalo. The study, which crunched US Census data, also found that 35 percent of Black residents live below the poverty line.
"The ascent of Blacks to political office and other positions of power and influence have not reduced Black inequality, nor has it eased Black misery or suffering," the study said. "Today, just as it was thirty-one years ago, Black Buffalo lives in underdeveloped neighborhoods and experiences oppressive and exploitative conditions every single day."
'We are being held hostage by inhumane decisions'
The reopening has been crushing for Hanesworth.
"I was out there as they started to line up the gurneys in front of the store to start to bring people out and was there when they brought a couple of the bodies out," she said. "That's the only thing that if I could unsee, that's what I would unsee."
Hanesworth penned a poem to memorialize Salter and Young and the other victims who were killed.
Titled "Water," Hanesworth's poem was surrounded by waterfalls displayed in the store.
—Poet Jillian Hanesworth (@SocJustice_poet) July 15, 2022
"I just wanted to do my little part," she said. "People do seem to find healing in it, and that is the whole purpose of having me do it."
It took her almost a month after the shooting to step into any grocery store in general, she told Insider. At the Tops reopening, she noticed people celebrating her tribute which she said overwhelmed her.
"I was walking out, there were a ton of people just kind of standing in front of my poem and just crying," she said "And I'm like, 'I can't handle this. This isn't it for me today ' then I just ended up leaving," she recalled. "I haven't been back since, and I don't know if I'll go in there. I don't know when I'll feel comfortable going in there."
Days after the reopening, in mid-July, protesters gathered outside the store — calling for more options to open in the area, particularly for those who may need more time before entering Tops again, according to Spectrum News.
"We are being held hostage by inhumane decisions, options," activist Jalonda Hill told the outlet. "So, it's either that we choose to go back into a store where we're walking on the blood of our elders, or it's that we remain in a community where we're experiencing food apartheid."
Tops was also met with another threat days after its reopening. Police said a Washington state man called Tops to say that he was going to shoot Black people at the store. Officials said that he was arrested and charged with making interstate threats.
"It's exhausting and it's infuriating to know that people are using this moment of fear against so many people making all these false threats," Hanesworth said.
But for Hanesworth, using her art to help the community is a part of the road to healing and helps her get out of bed every day, she said.
"For the first few days, I was just heartbroken but also shocked," she said. "It took a while to fully process what happened, even though I was watching the aftermath right before my eyes."
She continued, "Regardless of what side of this people fall on, whether it is, 'I'm going to go there every single day because I need something every day' or I'm never going in there again, it's all valid."
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