We will not repeat the name of the 18-year-old police say drove from the Binghamton, New York, area to shoot 13 people at a Tops grocery store in east Buffalo on Saturday afternoon. He will have to find his fame elsewhere. We would, instead, call greater attention to the innocent victims of one of the nation’s deadliest racist massacres including Aaron Salter Jr., the retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard at the store who died heroically trying to stop a sociopath clad in body armor and wielding an assault rifle. Or there was Pearl Young, a 77-year-old who ran a neighborhood food pantry. Or Heyward Patterson, who perished in the parking lot; the 67-year-old was there to give a shopper a ride. He was loading groceries into his car when he was shot and killed. Regular folks going about their business until evil unexpectedly arrived in their predominantly Black neighborhood. Their grieving friends and families deserve our thoughts, our prayers, yes, but also the assurance that their loved ones did not die in vain.
If this awful attack were the only example of domestic terrorism, of mass shooting, of racial hatred or white supremacy in this country, we would be inclined to merely be shocked — or to weep or maybe even question the lone attacker’s sanity — but it is not. Mostly, we are angry. Very, very angry.
From a Pittsburgh synagogue to an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, the body count of armed white men furious about people who look different from them whether Jewish, Latino or African American, is high. How many manifestos does it take for Americans to realize — the rational ones at least — that the kind of malignant white supremacist hatred so flagrantly on display at that 2017 march in Charlottesville, Virginia, (the one where “You will not replace us” was the rallying cry) infects this country like a disease, spread on the internet’s swampiest sites like superspreader events?
We are outraged at the perpetrator, of course, and at those who have promoted replacement theory, whether on social media or the more conventional media — from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on down. And the inaction of elected officials, particularly in Congress, to do anything about domestic terrorism, hate speech and the continued proliferation of military-style assault weapons is infuriating, too. How many mass shootings does it take to cause political conservatives to take notice? Everytown For Gun Safety estimates that the U.S. saw 1,363 shot and killed by mass shootings during the 12-year period ending in 2021. Factor in another 947 who were shot but did not perish. When is the body count high enough to take serious action? Please, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the people of this country would like to know.
So here’s what would we ask, and it is a very small thing, indeed: This is the moment for all of us to stand up and condemn in no uncertain terms what happened in Buffalo and most especially the kind of bigotry that fueled the killings. President Joe Biden did it Sunday calling out the hate that stains this nation’s soul. That’s great, but there must be more. Why not equally strong words from every person in elected office, from every state in this country? Why not every opinion maker in the media from daily newspapers to “influencers” on social media? Why not use this awful moment to unite our so-often divided country around what should be regarding a sacred principle of the United States: All people are created equal?
The healing can’t end with such truth-telling, of course, but what a good beginning it would be to stand up to the evil in plain sight. Those who can’t bring themselves to condemn white nationalists, those who play footsie with such individuals for political gain as Donald Trump and others within the GOP have done, ought to be recognized for what they are — soulless enablers of domestic terrorism.
Whatever reasonable policy debate may lie in arcane subjects such as holding internet sites accountable for content or distinguishing an assault weapon from a semi-automatic rifle, there is no legitimacy in the insane subculture of replacement theory, where people of color or those who aren’t Christian are viewed as an existential threat. Let one good thing come from Buffalo: a rededication to American fairness, decency, equality and justice for all.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.