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Buffalo: India Walton on the Racist Massacre & Community’s Need for Gun Control, Good Jobs, Housing

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As Buffalo, New York, mourns the loss of the 10 people killed Saturday in a racist rampage at a local grocery store in the heart of the city’s African American community, we get an update from longtime community activist and former mayoral candidate India Walton about the lack of attention to the structural issues that made the Black community vulnerable and the ineffectiveness of police. “My question is: What happens when the cameras leave? How do we continue to support the people who have been negatively impacted?” says Walton. “What decreases gun violence, particularly in places like East Buffalo, is going to be good living-wage jobs, affordable housing, a quality education and access to the basic needs that this community has lacked for so long.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to Buffalo, where the first funeral is being held today for the victims of Saturday’s massacre, when an 18-year-old white supremacist opened fire on a grocery store in the heart of Buffalo’s Black community. The gunman shot dead 10 people, all African American. Today’s funeral is for 68-year-old Heyward Patterson. He was a deacon at the Tabernacle Church of God, known for giving rides to people who needed to shop at Tops, where Saturday’s attack took place.

We’re going back now to India Walton, longtime Buffalo community activist. She ran for mayor of Buffalo last year, works for the Working Families Party and RootsAction.

India, we talked to you on Monday, right after the massacre. And at the end of this week, we wanted to go back to you. It was horrifying as I laid out the names of the victims as we knew them at that point on Monday. In that list was Kat Massey, and you were hearing that for the first time at that moment. Again, our condolences. Can you talk about, at this point, a week later, six days later, how the community is dealing and who the people are who have died and what you think needs to be done?

INDIA WALTON: Thanks, Amy.

The community has come together. Buffalo really is a place of resilience, of deep community, of mutual aid. We’ve seen, time and time again, when tragedies happen, and even on a day-to-day, we take care of each other. So, the outpouring of support from agencies and individuals, from all over other municipalities, localities and all over the country and world, has really been overwhelming.

My question is: What happens when the cameras leave? How do we continue to support people who have been negatively impacted? I walked around the neighborhood yesterday and talked to folks who were just out sitting on their porches and walking through the streets, who were saying that, you know, they didn’t want to go back into that store. I talked to a young man whose mother shopped in that Tops, who hasn’t left the house since the incident happened. So we really have to make sure that the support is long-lasting and that we have our eye toward the systemic change that has to occur in east Buffalo and for Black people in this community.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the suspect appeared in court yesterday. Some of those who lost loved ones were in the courtroom. Can you talk about that scene?

INDIA WALTON: I didn’t go. I’ve been making myself scarce from a lot of situations, because I have a difficult time dealing with this emotionally. I’m still very, very angry. And I know that the families are feeling a lot of anger. But to know that he is being brought to court with a bulletproof vest on, it just — I’m curious as to who is being most protected in this situation and, you know, why it seems like the accused is being protected more than these families.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to President Biden, who visited your city of Buffalo on Tuesday, three days after the massacre. This is what Biden said. He denounced the attack as an act of domestic terrorism, describing white supremacy as a “poison.”

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look, we’ve seen the mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina; El Paso, Texas; in Pittsburgh; last year in Atlanta; this week in Dallas, Texas; and now in Buffalo — in Buffalo, New York. White supremacy is a poison. It’s a poison running through — it really is.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, India, what you heard, what you want to hear, and also the response to the House of Representatives approving a bill aimed at combating domestic terrorism, passed by a vote of 222 to 203? Only one Republican congressmember supported the bill, joining the Democrats.

INDIA WALTON: Yeah, our Republican congressmember did not, by the way. And white supremacy is a poison. It is also in the foundation and DNA of this country. You know, the lone wolf narrative is untrue. This type of behavior is being bred. It’s being encouraged. And the stories of the people who are most impacted are being overshadowed by people who are using this as a moment of political — for political gain for themselves. And it’s disheartening. I’m trying to be very careful with the words that I use this morning.

I don’t want to hear anything. I want to see action. I want to see legislation. I want to see investments made in communities, so that every person is allowed to be self-determined. I want to see employers like Tops pay their employees a living wage, so people are not in disparate poverty. I want to see Black communities actually protected and valued. I want to see banks lend mortgages to families of color and give business financing so that we don’t have to depend on a single corporation for all of our needs in our community. I want to see solutions. I want to see something change, right?

At the press conference yesterday, the CEO of Tops said that there are no plans to put more stores on the East Side of Buffalo. The mayor said that his solution in his budget was more money for police and this failed ShotSpotter technology, where we’re seeing that in the moment people are saying white supremacy is a poison, but then they go back and they do the same things that uphold this white supremacist system.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to take each of what you just said. You tweeted this week about what you’re just talking about. You went to a hearing on the Buffalo budget that was focused on adding $900,000 to the police budget for the purchase of ShotSpotter, an artificial intelligence tool that finds sounds that resemble gunshots and alerts police officers. You wrote your biggest concern is that it doesn’t work. Explain.

INDIA WALTON: Multiple studies show that it doesn’t work. It picks up sounds like helicopters, hammers, backfires from cars, fireworks, and identifies it as gunshots. The most effective way to identify when a shooting happens is a person calling 911 dispatch. ShotSpotter has been proven time and time again to be not only the impetus of unnecessary police presence in certain neighborhoods, but in Rochester, the Rochester Police Department was able to get ShotSpotter to change the classification of a sound that it heard in an attempt to frame a Black man that they shot down for attempted murder on a police officer. It was proven. He was exonerated. But incidents like this is what we should be paying attention to when we make these types of decisions. And these technologies are not what decreases gun violence in communities. What decreases gun violence, particularly in places like east Buffalo, is going to be good living-wage jobs, affordable housing, a quality education and access to the basic needs that this community has lacked for so long.

AMY GOODMAN: India, can you talk about this 911 call that has become famous now? You have a Tops worker who’s whispering into the phone, trying to describe what’s happening, and the dispatcher yells at the worker because they’re whispering and hangs up on them? This is in the midst of the massacre.

INDIA WALTON: This, again, is just a symptom of a disease that we have, especially in western New York, about the way our public servants treat people who are asking for help and assistance.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to the clip. This was played on Buffalo TV station WGRZ. The worker, Latisha Rogers, an assistant office manager at Tops supermarket, describes what happened.

LATISHA ROGERS: I didn’t really see much at all. I just heard the gunshots and just dropped down to the ground and just waited for him to stop. And he just wouldn’t stop. So, I tried to call 911, and I was whispering because I could hear him close by. And when I whispered on the phone to 911, the dispatcher started yelling at me, saying, “Why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper.” And I’m trying to tell her, like, “Ma’am, he’s in the store. He’s shooting. It’s an active shooter. I’m scared for my life.” And she said something crazy to me, and then she hung up in my face, and I had to call my boyfriend to tell him to call 911.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Latisha Rogers. India?

INDIA WALTON: That 911 dispatcher is a civilian employee that is paid for with tax dollars. There’s no excuse for that type of treatment and that type of behavior. And I hope that a lot of these stories that are coming out about corrections officers, police officers, public servants making light of this situation — I hope that they’re all held fully accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, India, can you end by talking a little more about one of the victims who you knew, the one we talked about, well, you were first stunned by on Monday, Katherine “Kat” Massey? Her funeral will be held Monday.

INDIA WALTON: Yeah, Miss Kat is going to be sorely missed, I know, by myself but also her family and this community. She was the co-founder of an organization called We Are Women Warriors. She was a mentor and supporter of me in the work that I did in the Fruit Belt, where she lived, where her family has been for many, many decades. She was always an advocate and a fighter for what is just and what is right. And I want to make sure that her legacy lives on, and I want to do all of the things I know I can do to continue to make her proud in me.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much. And again, our condolences to you, India, to the whole Buffalo community. India Walton, former Buffalo mayoral candidate, longtime community activist. Did you intimate, India, this week that you’re going to run again for office? I think she just froze, so we’ll have to get to that the next time we interview India, now a senior adviser for special projects for the Working Families Party and senior strategic organizer with RootsAction.

Next up, we look at the fight for reproductive rights as Oklahoma lawmakers approve the most sweeping abortion ban in the country. We’ll speak with The Nation’s abortion access reporter Amy Littlefield. Stay with us.

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