Garnell Whitfield is still traumatized by the loss of his mother to racist violence in a Buffalo supermarket.
Whitfield claims that the subsequent mass shootings, as well as Republican lawmakers’ refusal to support stricter gun laws, have made it even more difficult to cope. He is also concerned that many elected officials and religious institutions have been deafeningly silent about the impact of White supremacy.
“You go from being sad and missing your loved one to being furious,” Whitfield explained. “Knowing that other people are going through the same thing is a lot to take in.” It means a lot to know that people in positions of authority are essentially giving the go-ahead for this nonsense.”
Tops Friendly Markets will reopen its Buffalo store on Friday, two months after Whitfield’s 86-year-old mother, Ruth E. Whitfield, and nine other people were killed when a White supremacist opened fire there. Tops Friendly Markets said in a news release that the supermarket has been completely renovated, with additional safety and security measures in place, as well as the creation of an inside memorial for the shooting victims. Improved video monitoring systems, an emergency evacuation audio/visual alarm system, the installation of additional emergency exits, and increased professional security both inside and outside the store are among the new security measures in the supermarket.
While the Tops store is desperately needed in the neighborhood, many Buffalo residents are still traumatized by the massacre, according to community members. Families and survivors are still in mourning. Residents are concerned about another attack. And there is still apprehension among neighbors when they see a White person walking through Masten Park, a predominantly Black neighborhood. Local activists say they don’t expect many people to shop at the store in the first few weeks after it reopens, but they hope that isn’t the case. Before Tops opened in 2003, the east side neighborhood was a food desert, and residents fought hard to get a grocery store.
“I think there will be people who don’t want to go there and will never go there again,” former Buffalo fire commissioner Garnell Whitfield predicted. “However, convenience and necessity take precedence, and that store will remain a viable part of that community.”
Thursday afternoon’s dedication ceremony for the store’s reopening included a community prayer and a moment of silence for the shooting victims.
Liz Bosley, a community activist, said she has spoken to many residents, particularly the elderly, who are terrified of returning to the Tops location. Some wish Tops had demolished and rebuilt the store so people wouldn’t have to relive the devastation, she said.
Residents, according to Bosley, have been going to a makeshift market set up by volunteers after the shooting, where free groceries and hot meals are distributed. Others have taken buses or Uber rides to other parts of town to do their grocery shopping. Still, Masten Park requires a traditional supermarket, according to Bosley.
Bosley is applying for a job at Tops in the hopes that residents will see her working there and feel more at ease shopping there.
Other community leaders hope to persuade residents to shop at the reopened store as well.
Bishop Perry Davis of Buffalo’s New Life Harvest World Ministries said he planned to be at Tops when it reopened on Friday to console the community and comfort anyone who shows up. The reopening of the store, according to Davis, will reopen old wounds for many in the neighborhood.
Davis, on the other hand, is encouraging the community to show its strength by patronizing Tops, which he describes as a neighborhood necessity.
Mark Talley, whose mother, Geraldine Talley, was killed in the attack, agreed that Buffalo’s east side must remain strong and Tops remain open.
But Talley has stated that he will not be deterred by the tragedy. He expresses his grief by assisting in the distribution of groceries to residents at the makeshift market. Talley stated that the market has drawn large crowds each week, demonstrating that it filled a void in the community while Tops was closed.