“Starlette! There’s been a shooting at TOPS and mama’s not answering her phone!”
This is how I learned about the most recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.
The youngest of three children, my sister was crying and concerned that our mother, who had left to go shopping, was yet another victim. This time, the shooter’s bullets hit too close to home.
I didn’t need the address because I knew how to get there by memory. It was five minutes away by car from my mother’s house.
I knew exactly where she was if this was the case. I have dropped our mother off to go shopping at this supermarket countless times.
I have walked the aisles, and while my sister was crying on the phone as I tried to calm her down, I quickly ran through them in my mind, thinking of places our mother could hide.
But I didn’t let my mind go there fully. I’m the oldest, and I needed to maintain my focus. So, I searched the internet for details and shared them with my sister to reassure her.
I refreshed my screen to give her the most up-to-date version of the story. The numbers were still coming in. She had heard the sirens and called me alarmed by the thought of what this could mean for our family.
“The crime scene hasn’t been cleared yet. The shooter hasn’t been apprehended or named. Mama never answers her phone, and you know that. Let’s just give it time,” I told her.
To make matters worse, the suspect had intended to leave the supermarket and walk through the community in search of more victims.
He had driven 200 miles to target this predominately African American community — all because of something called “replacement theory,” which is becoming more mainstream due rightwing politicians and commentators. The Washington Post reported that nearly half of all Republicans believe in it.
The Anti-Defamation League offered an “explainer,” which begins:
“Once largely relegated to white supremacist rhetoric, ‘The Great Replacement’ has made its way into mainstream consciousness in the past several years. From the chants of ‘Jews Will Not Replace Us’ on the University of Virginia campus to then-U.S. Rep. Steve King’s tweeted protest, ‘We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,’ to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s complaints that the Democratic party is attempting to ‘replace the current electorate’ with ‘third-world voters,’ the racist conspiracy theory has well and truly arrived.”
It also traces the roots back to the 20th century and to French nationalist and author Maurice Barres.
This belief in “white genocide,” that socially colored white people are being replaced by “people of color,” and that this will lead the destruction of Western civilization and society, has been linked to other mass shootings – including the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the 2019 Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand – and has been connected to members of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
This most recent incident of racialized violence is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department as a hate crime.
The alleged shooter, 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, New York, left a 180-page note, a manifesto. He also streamed it live on Twitch. Though the video has since been deleted, it is still circulating on other social media platforms.
Ten people were killed and three more senselessly wounded. Gendron was taken into custody without further incident.
This after more incidents of AAPI attacks, which are again on the rise.
Here we are again, asking the same questions: “Why did he do it? How can we prevent the next mass shooting? Where do we go from here?”
There are calls for gun reform after yet another mass murder of American citizens.
A self-proclaimed anti-Semite, fascist and white supremacist, Gendron’s hatred was learned online.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul called the mass shooting “a slaughter” while discussing the combined access to guns and to hate speech in a television interview with CNN’s Diana Bash. President Biden called the shooting an act of “domestic terrorism.”
It should also never be the reason for me to come home.
Our mother later answered her phone. She wasn’t at the supermarket. But she could have been. She could have been where Gendron shouldn’t have been with hatred in his heart and a loaded gun.
I could have lost my mother, my body’s first home, because of a theory designed to cause fear and resentment, a grandiose delusion rooted in white supremacy, which has a long and genocidal history of replacing Indigenous communities with their own.
Until we address this fact, I fear this will continue to be our reality. So, should I prepare myself for another phone call?