Jacksonville shooting brings back dark memories for Buffalo residents

A racist attack that killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday resurfaced anguish and frustration among residents of Buffalo, New York, whose community was also altered after a gunman opened fire at a Tops supermarket in May 2022. 

The shooter in Jacksonville, a 21-year-old white man, “hated Black people” and left behind a vitriolic white supremacist document, Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said. In Buffalo, the 18-year-old gunman responsible for killing 10 Black people orchestrated the attack “for the future of the White race,” according to a federal criminal complaint.

News of the Jacksonville shooting hit close to the heart for Cashell Durham. Her brother, Aaron Salter, was killed after he ran inside the store to warn others about the approaching gunman. 

“I still have not been back to that Tops since that incident, and the store is still open,” Durham said. “It’s about three or four blocks away from where I live. I still haven’t been able to go.”

She never thought about mass shootings until one touched her own family.

“When it hits you directly, and it’s because of just the color of our skin, it’s so different,” Durham said. “And when people say that there’s not racism, I’m like, There is, and it’s still prevalent because of the actions that are still being taken.

Jamien Eutsey, another Buffalo resident, said he became paranoid about his safety in the days after the shooting: “I was looking over my shoulder, head on the swivel,” he recalled. “I shouldn’t have to.”

Eutsey said the death of Anolt Joseph “A.J.” Laguerre Jr. was especially disheartening. Laguerre, 19, was employed at the Dollar General where he was killed. “I just had a birthday three days ago. I just turned 24. I’m at a loss for words,” Eutsey said.

Fragrance Harris Stanfield survived the shooting at Tops along with her daughter. 

She said her life was turned upside down. “We know that we came out of that store and other people didn’t,” she said. “We live with that every single day.

“Black people in the world have been taught to cope rather than heal with our trauma. We have learned to push it down, and then it compounds,” she added. To survivors of the Jacksonville shooting, she offered this advice: “Find the support that you need from whomever is willing to support you.”

The shootings in Jacksonville and Buffalo are not isolated events. Episodic gun violence and hate crimes alike continue to disrupt lives from coast to coast.

In 2015, a white gunman walked into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine Black worshippers. The gunman, Dylann Roof, wrote a racist online manifesto and is on federal death row in an Indiana prison. 

Wayne Jones, who lost his mother in the Buffalo attack, said he has experienced racism since childhood. He blames the escalation of hateful rhetoric into killing, however, in part on social media.

“Someone is targeting young white men and telling them Blacks are taking over,” he said.

According to a 2022 report by the Anti-Defamation League, most mass shootings over the past 12 years were committed by right-wing extremists. Shootings inspired by white supremacy were flagged as being of “particular concern,” the report said. According to the Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism organization, Black people have been victims of 66% of all racially motivated hate crimes since 1995.

Jacksonville on Sunday commemorated the 63rd anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday, a sobering reminder of how an ax-wielding mob beat Black youths staging a peaceful sit-in at a segregated lunch counter. Decades later, the community is confronting another episode of racial terrorism.

Other Buffalo residents, including Dakarai Singletary, believe the Jacksonville shooting speaks to the systemic oppression Black people have faced in America.

“No other group in America faces this type of open persecution often,” Singletary said. “And we just get thoughts and prayers. Every time. And it’s, like, very frustrating.

“We had to lose 10 community members for people to see value in us,” he added. “And that was just within this city. That hurts.”

Through his nonprofit organization, Candles In The S.U.N. (Save Ur Neighborhood) — which provides mentorship, activities and other resources to underprivileged youths and young adults — Singletary stepped in after the Tops shooting to provide healthy food to families affected by the store’s temporary closing. Singletary also said he recently distributed more than 1,600 free backpacks to children in Buffalo and Syracuse, New York. He also wants to go to Jacksonville with his team and “help however we can.”

Earl Perrin Jr., who is one of the organizers of the Lt. Aaron Salter Memorial Scholarship, also said he plans to reach out to those affected in the Jacksonville community.

“We have to try to be more proactive than reactive,” he said. “I want this generation to be known as the one that stood up to fight and fight hate with love.”

After the Tops shooting and national media coverage, the Buffalo community got an influx of support, including donations and federal funding for mental health programs. Residents said there is still work to be done. Structural inequity in the community persists, including the lack of grocery stores that led so many Black shoppers to that Tops location, resident Malik Stubbs pointed out. He said efforts should focus on addressing gun violence and having police presence to guard grocery and other retail stores. 

Stanfield also criticized some of the city’s post-shooting efforts, which to her have emphasized bouncing back, rather than giving adequate space and time for healing among survivors of the gun violence. She said she hopes that in Jacksonville, elected officials will be committed to doing the work it takes to recover.

Stubbs, who co-facilitates healing circles with Eutsey for men of color in the Buffalo community, empathizes with Jacksonville, because he knows that “it’s not easy” and that the healing process is “going to take a while.”

But just as it does for many residents in Buffalo, the onslaught of racial violence poses one overall question for Black people nationwide: “When will it ever end?” Stubbs asked.

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