Racism Kills: Segregation's Role in the Buffalo Massacre
While an 18-year-old white supremacist pulled the trigger, America's legacy of racist policies such as redlining created his perfect killing field.
News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast that melds hard-hitting journalism with hip-hop to inform, educate, and inspire. This mini-episode examines how America’s systemic racism played a key role in the Buffalo massacre.
On May 14, an 18-year-old white supremacist armed with an assault rifle and wearing body armor livestreamed his massacre of 10 Black people at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Ten days later, another 18-year-old slaughtered 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. While investigators scramble for motivations behind the latter, those of the accused mass murderer in the Buffalo shooting are crystal clear: He wanted to kill as many African Americans as possible, and researched Upstate New York neighborhoods, and that particular Tops, to do so.
This mini-episode examines how America’s systemic racism, including racist housing policies such as redlining, played a key role.
We’ve covered redlining before, concentrating on how climate change exacerbates its devastating effects even more so—literally cooking Black and Brown communities alive. Titled “Redlining & Climate Change: A Deadly Combination,” that episode features insights from: Vivek Shandas, professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University; Cate Mingoya, director of capacity building at nonprofit Groundwork USA; and Bruce Mitchell, urban geographer and senior research analyst at the nonprofit National Community Reinvestment Coalition. It also includes incendiary verses from our artist in residence, hip-hop maestro Silent Knight. Be sure to check it out!
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Why We Covered This Topic
With mass shootings in America as ubiquitous as our mistrust of elected officials, it’s important not to become numb to the senseless brutality of these attacks or the unimaginable suffering they create. It’s also imperative to get to their root causes if there’s any hope of preventing future bloodshed.
Far too often, these critical elements are either underreported or completely ignored by not just the mainstream press, but those in the so-called “halls of power” who can actually help end the xenophobic slaughter!
We will always dig deeper to expose the truth, no matter how ugly it may be.
A hell of a lot of careful thought and meticulous planning went into the Buffalo massacre.
The 18-year-old white supremacist who livestreamed his killing spree of aunties, uncles, grammas and grandpas, sisters and brothers, moms and dads, daughters and sons probed the demographics of Upstate New York neighborhoods, seeking those zip codes with the highest concentrations of African Americans. He loaded his assault rifle knowing its lightning-fast speed, sheer power, and lethal precision. He strapped on his body armor knowing it would keep him alive longer should someone return fire, thus helping maximize his kill ratio. He traveled for hours to reach that neighborhood and that Tops supermarket, knowing with full confidence it’d be full of Black folks.
What he likely didn’t know was the incredible amount of careful thought and meticulous planning that went into his ideal target’s creation.
Today, Buffalo’s East Side and its predominantly Black population mirror historical efforts by federal and regional planners to keep communities segregated. Called redlining, minority neighborhoods were literally highlighted in red on underwriting maps to help lenders determine loan eligibility. (Take a guess at which were blocked.) Restrictive covenants—clauses attached to deeds stipulating properties could only be sold to white people—were another strategy.
In her must-read, 2018 report “A City Divided: A Brief History of Segregation in Buffalo,” our guest Anna Blatto chronicles the long-lasting decimation caused by such discriminatory policies:
“Redlining restricted the flow of capital in and out of minority neighborhoods
as restrictive covenants and other forms of housing discrimination kept
minorities from moving into white neighborhoods,” she writes. “Lack of access to loans made it much more difficult for African Americans to buy homes, open
businesses, build wealth, and, if they chose, to move to other neighborhoods. Many neighborhoods entered a downward spiral of disinvestment, in which few people would invest in the neighborhood because its property values were declining rather than rising.”
The killer probably wasn’t aware, either, of the furious battle waged by community activists years earlier to even get that particular Tops supermarket built, nor its role as much more than a grocery store, but a place of community, camaraderie, and perhaps forced solidarity. Now a heinous crime scene, its shuttering returns the area into a so-called “food desert”—depriving an estimated 22,000 residents of their local, fresh food source to feed their families.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
How America’s systemic racism and racist policies such as redlining created the killer’s ideal target, forcing scores of Black families into Buffalo’s East Side, increasing poverty, and excluding these folks from critical financing, housing, healthcare, employment, and more.
That segregation remains alive and well in the Buffalo region—with the state’s second-largest city consistently ranking among the nation’s most segregated, and its Black communities persistently rated among the country’s most impoverished.
The brutal existence of “food deserts,” whereby entire neighborhoods totaling tens of thousands of residents go without access to local grocers or supermarkets to feed their families. The closure of the Tops supermarket where the massacre took place, for example, leaves an estimated 22,000 folks without access to fresh food.
That neglecting to examine the key contributing factors to such deadly and racist violence will only fuel more racially motivated mass slayings.
Who We Interviewed & What They Said
“In the wake of this tragedy, we must really focus on amplifying members of this community. We have to amplify Black voices, amplify Black-led organizations, and really amplify neighborhood-level solutions: reallocating money into community-level organizations that can fill in what the police tend to be used for now, mental health response, and organizations that really are working to address the root cause of poverty and give folks a voice that generally feel as though they don't have one.”
For an in-depth analysis of housing discrimination complaints in the Buffalo region, check out Partnership for the Public Good’s May 2022 fact sheet, examining trends, types, geographical distribution, and more.
To learn more about redlining, its history, pervasiveness, and life-threatening ramifications amid ever-rising global temperatures, listen to our episode “Redlining & Climate Change: A Deadly Combination.” (It’s got insane, original hip-hop encapsulating and punctuating all this, too!)
Read our guest Anna Blatto’s 2018 report “A City Divided: A Brief History of Segregation in Buffalo” for critical insights into Buffalo’s history and the many discriminatory practices helping to create and sustain the region’s enduring segregation.
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News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast brought to you by Morey Creative Studios and Manny Faces Media.
Audio Editor/Sound Designer/Producer/Host: Manny Faces
Editor-In-Chief/Producer: Christopher Twarowski
Managing Editor/Producer: Rashed Mian
Episode Art: Jeff Main
Executive Producer: Jed Morey