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The Buffalo Massacre on Saturday, May 14th is an American tragedy. The death of completely innocent people engaged in the regular task of shopping at their neighborhood’s local grocery store, should compel our nation to lament and repent of its greatest sin. Racism is America’s greatest sin. Lest we think this is just a racial issue between Blacks and whites, let me add that racism is inclusive of America’s other, equally repugnant sins. Anti-Semitism, Homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Immigration, Native American genocide and sexism are all connected to racism. As a way of maintaining power and control, a historical division was intentionally created to pit these groups against one another. People in other groups who have also suffered because of discrimination hesitate to agree when Blacks and others suggest America’s greatest sin is racism. Many Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, women and the LGBTQI community may take exception to such wording, given the history of their own suffering and the horrible violence committed against them.
To clarify, America’s greatest sin has historically been named racism for at least half a dozen reasons:
- No one is completely sure, but most accounts suggest that between two and 10 million human beings were kidnapped from their homes and villages on the continent of Africa over a period of two hundred years. This number is so large that it ought to make this event among the most egregious crimes against humanity ever committed.
- Africans were forced into an institution of slavery that completely negated every form of their independence. This institution, the African Slave Trade, was constructed specifically to eliminate Black people’s freedom and to use them as chattel for building a nation.
- At one point slavery in the United States was the primary production of well over fifty percent of its economy. Every earned dollar from such production (cotton, tobacco, sugar, etc.) went to whites.
- From at least 1619 to 1863 it was perfectly legal to own another human being if that person was Black. Ownership meant treating “owned” human beings in any matter one felt appropriate, including selling, raping, punishing, starving and killing.
- An entire system and structure of injustice was built to justify and support slavery. This included the participation of nearly all European countries. The system was political, social, economic and religious. Each sector became interwoven in a strategically planned theory of racist division intended to teach that whites are superior and blacks inferior. This system was so carefully strategized and constructed that it remains deeply cemented in United States culture in 2022.
- Today, racism invades virtually every arena of the public and private sectors in the United States; education at every level from Pre-K through graduate school, businesses and the corporate world from start-up entrepreneurial endeavors to Fortune 500 companies, the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government, and religion.
Racism is so sweeping and thoroughly interwoven in our nation, until it cannot help but have the accurate definition of “America’s Greatest Sin.” And just Saturday, we learned once more how sin is directly linked to evil. Racism is not a poison because not all poison is fatal. If we have not learned anything, we should at least know that racism is fatal. It destroyed villages, crushed family structures, rooted out cultural affinities and dehumanized an entire group of human beings because of the color of their skin. Racism forced one race into labor to enrich another race. Racism sought to normalize the most brutal acts; kidnapping, rape, murder and lynching, hatred, cruelty, prejudice and most repugnant of all – the false theory of white supremacy.
Payton Gendron, the 18 year-old savage murderer, is not an anomaly. He is another card-carrying member of one of the 98 white nationalist groups, 733 active hate groups and part of over 5,000 white supremacist incidents committed in the United States. He is another Dylann Roof, savage murderer of nine human beings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
He is another Kim Potter who killed Daunte Wright, Adam Coy who killed Andre Hill, Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins who killed Manuel Ellis, Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan who killed Rayshard Brooks, Derek Chauvin who killed George Floyd, Brett Hankison who killed Breonna Taylor, Aaron Dean who killed Atatiana Jefferson and the list goes on and on and on. Gendron is human, but he has donned the oppressive garment of racism that makes him a beast. And Saturday this beast drove 200 miles from his home, fueled by racist animus evoked by all of these white nationalist hate groups. He drove into the parking lot of Tops Friendly Markets store in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. This animal wore tactical gear (bullet proof vest) to ensure maximum damage just in cased he was fired upon. He got out of his car and with great deliberation aimed at whoever was in view, shooting four people. He went in the store where a security officer confronted him, shooting and killing the officer. He walked through the store taking aim and shooting. On Saturday, May 14, Gendron shot and killed:
Roberta A. Drury – 32 (described by her family as jubilant, happy and always the first to say hello, caring, helpful)
Margus D. Morrison – 52 (school bus aide, caretaker for his mother)
Andre Mackneil – 53 (brother, cousin and father who went to pick up a birthday cake for his three-year-old son on his birthday)
Aaron Salter – 55 (retired lieutenant from the Buffalo Police Traffic Division)
Geraldine Talley – 62 (mother of two children, excellent cook and baker, executive assistant)
Celestine Chaney – 65 (went to the store to buy shrimp and ingredients for strawberry shortcake, had overcome two aneurysms and breast cancer)
Heyward Patterson – 67 (a man of worship and deacon at State Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, father of three, driver of the church van, drove people to Tops who were unable to drive themselves)
Katherine Massey – 72 (community activist, advocate for gun control, part of a non-profit group to help historically disadvantaged individuals and their children)
Pearl Young – 77 (wife of a pastor, substitute teacher, Sunday school teacher, head of a food pantry)
Ruth Whitfield – 86 (center of her family who had to take several days to share news of her death with her husband)
Zaire Goodman, 20; Jennifer Warrington, 50; and Christopher Braden, 55; were all injured.
Racist indiscriminate killing is never, ever indiscriminate. Saturday’s malicious act of great violence not only killed ten people and injured three others, but it altered families and an entire community and city. Each person who died was part of a circle that included family members and friends. Each of those persons was directly influenced, and they also have an extended circle of friends and associates who have been affected.
As a nation we cannot just condemn racism and then point to this savage as a lone wolf. Gendron is no lone wolf. Rather, he represents the millions of ignorant, brutal, savage animals who comprise these white nationalists and active hate groups in our nation. Such attitudes are a scourge to human civilization, a plague on forward progress, a menace to society, a curse on all people of goodwill, a plague on people of every race and hue and the personification of evil. Racism is not just a sickness. Racists are not just being misled. Nor are racists torchbearers of white civilization. Racism is filthy, putrid, rank, detestable and monstrous. If we do not end racism then this present dark night of horror will turn into a permanent future where hatred and cruelty are the order of the day.
Every government resource, the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, Congress and the President, must have the courage to unite, condemn this madness and crush every single white racist hate group in the nation. Send their leaders to prison. End all of their social media platforms. Track their members and name them in public. Shut down all their businesses. Stop all loans and government subsidies going to any member of these groups. Track those who are wealthy and end any of their contributions to organizations, elected officials or houses of worship. If we do not do all of this, we are merely playing with racists. And they must never be played with again.
Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors
President, Evanston/North Shore NAACP
Pastor, Second Baptist Church of Evanston