'It’s hard to do violence against those of us we know'
It’s got to stop — that's the sentiment shared by many leaders in the local Black community reacting to last week’s racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo by a white teenager.
Reactions range from disappointment and sadness to anger and frustration at the horrific acts of 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who is charged with donning tactical gear and killing 10 Black people at a Tops supermarket on May 14. He livestreamed a portion of the attack.
Some continue to feel safe in their community and others say they feel vulnerable in light of other hate crimes and a lack of a real solution to hatred and bigotry.
Jean Jordan, president of the New London chapter of the NAACP, said she was disgusted. “It’s been traumatic — again. Just when we think it’s safe, it starts all over again,” she said.
Jordan and others said the killing in Buffalo stirred up the kind of emotions she felt after other racially motivated attacks, including the 2015 killing of nine Black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. That gunman allegedly told parishioners that African Americans were “taking over the country.”
Officials said Gendron appears to have written a 180-page manifesto, posted online days before the Buffalo shooting, in which he described Black Americans and immigrants as “replacers” and referenced a “great replacement” conspiracy theory, the false idea that immigrants and others are deliberately replacing whites. It is an ideology embraced by white supremacists.
Gendron, who allegedly described himself as a white supremacist and anti-Semite, appears to have taken inspiration from the white supremacist who shot and killed 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. A 21-year-old who allegedly shot and killed 23 people and targeted Hispanic shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 expressed similar ideas.
Jordan, an educator herself, said education is the best weapon against the hatred and bigotry that has people believing things like the replacement theory or pushing back against the education system because they incorrectly believe curriculum touching on Black or Latino history is critical race theory, the academic concept that systemic racism is embedded in many parts of society.
“That’s a problem," she said. "You can’t go forward if you don’t know what happened behind you.”
And whether anything can be done to end racism, Jordan said state prosecutors had an opportunity, but failed to act, when investigating an incident where a racist slur was directed toward girls’ basketball players from Ledyard High School during a game against Colchester’s Bacon Academy.
Jordan said she is also tired of hearing about a person’s mental illness, which she said in some cases is used as an excuse.
“Look at the true reason ... it’s just true unadulterated hate,” she said.
Media plays a role
Regina Mosley, a community organizer with the ant-racist community group Step Up New London and former president of the New London Board of Education, said Black communities across the country are concerned.
“There’s a continuous onslaught and this continuous narrative that Black lives are not important, therefore we are disposable,” Mosley said. “The media plays a part in that, unfortunately. It’s why the work I do in the community, that the work Step Up New London does in the community with anti-racist education is so important. And I wish it was embraced by everyone.”
“The only way we’re going to heal ourselves," she said, "is if the whole community comes together and has these conversations about race and why it’s so important to uplift and support one another as a collective.”
Rev. Gregory Perry, pastor at Greeneville Congregational Church in Norwich, said he expects the killings will come up in a sermon he is preparing for Sunday.
“It is an awful thing that happened," Perry said. "Sadly, there are too many awful things like that have happened, random or not so random, acts of violence.”
“I feel relatively safe. That being said, there is an issue that exists around just the hate and violence ... violence by a too-young individual who has bought into the white supremacy,” he said.
Other targeted killings in the U.S. in recent years have included the death of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. In 2016, a man who pled allegiance to ISIS killed 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“You can almost go down the checklist of violence that’s being perpetrated against individuals based on their racial and cultural identity,” Perry said.
The religious community, Perry said, should be concerning itself with reminding people “we are all part of the family of the creator.”
“We should be trying to help ourselves to build those bonds. The more we build those bonds with ourselves the more we protect ourselves against it, the more we insulate ourselves. It’s hard to do violence against those of us we know. Those that promote such hate, their stock and trade is otherizing people, making folk the other. It’s objectifying to go into a grocery store and say ‘I want to kill Black folk’ because you don’t know Black folk and what you know is really what you have been sold and told by others. It becomes a different affair when you know people."
“Unfortunately, it’s happening regularly enough that whatever scar we might build for ourselves, each event sort of rips it off,” Perry said. “Things like this should be a challenge to us to redouble our efforts ... to seek a better moral standard for ourselves.”
'Talking creates an opportunity'
State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, a New London police officer, said he had just finished sharing pizza with a group of youth at Williams Park in New London and the subject of the shooting came up.
“They asked, ‘What’s going to happen? Are we going to be all right?' That threw me for a loop,” Nolan said. “I don’t have a good answer. This is what’s going on in the world. This is why it's important to fight racism. The things people are doing and saying, I’m at a loss for words with kids."
“Some people just don’t believe it will happen in our community. God willing, it doesn’t,” he said. “These are the things we hope don’t come into our community. You’re never prepared for something like this.”
Nolan, in a May 17 post on Facebook, said while he and others might not have good answers for the youth asking questions, “talking creates an opportunity to answer questions that they might have and give some comfort not only to them but to us."
“We can never promise deadly incidents will never happen in our community but we can say with good faith they are ‘usually’ rare,” he wrote.
Rev. Joyce Pollard, pastor at In His Presence Ministries in New London, called the news “sad and frightening” that an 18 year-old could find cause to kill someone because of their skin color.
“I’m sure people are being very cautious. It’s heartbreaking on both sides," she said. "How does an 18-year-old have such bitterness?”
And “no,” Pollard said, "no one is getting numb to it or accustomed to it. If we are, there’s an absolute problem as well.”
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