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‘Buffalo reminded us again’: Mass shootings prompt fear, frustration among members of Black, Jewish communities in CT

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By: Jordan Fenster via CT Insider

The murder of 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket last week hit Marketa Edwards particularly hard.

“I was born and raised in Buffalo. My kids still live there,” she said. “I grew up in the area that was struck by this tragedy.”

Edwards was a volunteer and later an organizer for the Hartford-based Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, which promotes ending mass incarceration and supports leaders and organizers in Connecticut and New York.

“I have numerous friends that were directly impacted,” she said. “One of my close cousins was in the store and barely made it out with his life.”

Lorenzo Jones is the co-founder and co-director of the Katal Center. He got emotional when asked how he felt after Buffalo.

“My wife goes to the grocery store every day,” he said. “That shiver down my spine, it is real. It’s like realizing that Freddy Kruger is not just a boogeyman, it’s a real thing.”

“Hatred for Black people is a real thing,” he said.

Officials say Payton S. Gendron drove hundreds of miles to a Tops grocery store in a predominantly Black Buffalo community where he shot and killed 10 people.

Gendron reportedly left a manifesto detailing his belief that Jews were planning to replace white people with Black people, echoing a concept called “replacement theory.”

But Jones bristled at the idea that Gendron was “afraid” of being replaced by minorities. It doesn’t come down to fear, he said, but hate.

“None of us are thinking anyone’s killing us because of their fear,” he said. “They’re killing us because they hate us and they don’t want us to exist. He wrote it.”

The fact that the target was a supermarket was particularly troubling for Jones. “The most radical thing you can be in this country is a Black woman,” he said, and the massacre took something else “from our Black women.”

Jones’ wife doesn’t just choose a grocery store based on the food, he said. It’s a place for community. They are often in strip malls, and often surrounded by nail shops and hair salons.

“What they took from us is this thing that Black women had,” he said. “That’s what makes Buffalo a moment for Black people. It’s happening right in front of you.”

There’s a sense now, Jones said, that nowhere is safe.

“Buffalo reminded us again,” he said. “We had a Black president, but you better not buy no collard greens or we’ll blow your brains out.”

‘It can’t happen here’

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, chair of psychiatry at Hartford HealthCare’s Institute of Living and chief of psychiatry at Hartford Hospital, said, “Right now a lot of people are wondering if they can go grocery shopping.”

Sukhera has been thinking a lot about the shooting in Buffalo over the weekend, in part because he experienced something similar firsthand. Authorities say Nathaniel Veltman accessed “hate related material” before shooting and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario in June 2021.

“A year ago, a white supremacist, just like this one, drove in from outside of the town, drove around looking for people to kill, murdered three generations of the family that I was family friends with, including the daughter who played with my daughter, husband, wife. Their son was orphaned and survived,” Sukhera said. “So I lived through it, witnessed it.”

“It hits home for me in particular, because after that event, it was a fear of, ‘Can my family and I go out for a walk?’” he said.

Sukhera later moved to Connecticut, but he is under no illusions that what happened in Buffalo, or what happened in Ontario, could happen here, too.

“It’s a defense mechanism to say, ‘It can’t happen here,’ or ‘It can’t happen to me.’ I would say it happened to us, it was a family that we knew and loved. And I would also say that each and every one of these people who died on Saturday, they were also us, they were America, they were Connecticut,” he said. “It’s important that we remind ourselves that no one is immune to this kind of violence, and that we have to do something about it, we have to name it, and we have to support healing from this kind of pain.”

Edwards said Buffalo had been a place Black people saw opportunity.

“A lot of our parents and grandparents came from the south and migrated to Buffalo where there was opportunity for Black families to be progressive,” she said.

The city has been suffering from crime and poverty in recent years, Edwards said, but the massacre is different in her mind, and so healing from it must be different.

“This feels different because it feels like it was a direct attack on the Black community as a whole,” she said. “The healing for this event is different because it has to be different. We can’t go down the same road and the same path and expect the same outcomes.”

There is a difference, Sukhera said, between terroristic mass killings like the murders of 10 at a supermarket in a predominantly Black Buffalo neighborhood, and the murders that happen on a daily basis in much of the country.

“There’s something fundamentally different about what happened in Buffalo, because someone specifically, explicitly, targeted Black communities,” he said. “He wrote a manifesto that was designed to create fear and notoriety. He wore armor. This was deliberate, it was deliberately designed to terrorize people.”

Such an event, Sukhera said, “creates fear, it creates trauma.” Then, the press coverage “amplifies” that trauma.

“Because the narrative gets amplified, that trauma touches people who aren’t even there and don’t live in Buffalo,” he said. “It touches every Black person, it touches people of color, it might touch people of Jewish tradition or connection.”

Michael Bloom, executive director of the Jewish Federation Associates of Connecticut, said there is no doubt the ideology that led to the Buffalo massacre exists in Connecticut.

“This is an unfortunate new reality I would say for all communities,” he said. “The Jewish community is aware that this is everywhere, including Connecticut.”

Sukhera believes that communities can heal from such an event, though there is no right way to do that.

“In some cultures, it’s to keep it in, and in some cultures, it’s to let it out to beat their chests to scream and cry,” he said. “There’s no one way to do this. There’s no right way or wrong way.”

For Sukhera’s own children, his answer was not to hide their Muslim heritage.

“My message to my kids was to be authentically themselves, and to not be afraid of being who they are,” he said. “And I think that’s how we heal. We heal by tapping into community, by tapping into joy, by walking each day not burdened by the kind of hatred that did this, and by coming together and validating each other’s pain, but also supporting each other through connection and passion for one another.”

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