Since the Tops grocery store mass shooting a year ago on May 14, ABC News has been visiting Buffalo to help tell the stories of a community mourning the 10 lives lost and the process of healing. As in other similar cases, this path has been rocky and uneven with an unclear direction.
But overwhelmingly, the sentiment of the people connected to the racially motivated tragedy is that they have been left behind, forgotten by their city and country amid a scourge of other mass shootings and gun violence.
In many ways, those interviewed by ABC News say nothing much has changed in Buffalo and they don’t expect it to, which is why they’re taking matters into their own hands.
The Tops shooting is inextricably linked to the history of Black Buffalo and the legacy of racism and segregation there, advocates say.
In the wake of WWII, the city’s Black population grew by leaps and bounds, fueled by the Great Migration to Northern cities from the South. Newcomers found work in the steel mills and factories of the city’s east side and crowds were attracted to War Memorial Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills played.
But the community was shattered by a 1967 race riot and its consequences including white flight and the relocation of the stadium to the suburbs.
“Living here, you felt it,” said Charley Fisher III, a former at-large member of Buffalo’s Common Council, the city’s governing body. “Jefferson Avenue after the mini riot, many businesses left Jefferson...the Black businesses that had been -- we had Black hotels and other things, Black insurance company, real estate companies -- they struggled.”
Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. and those racial divisions provided a roadmap to the Tops shooter, according to advocates – with a single grocery store servicing the 68,000 people who live on the predominantly Black east side.
Residents said the shooting laid bare what was already well known about their neighborhood – the consequences of decades of blight and neglect.
“I believe 80% of people of color in the city of Buffalo live in East Buffalo,” said Garnell Whitfield. “And none of these things are by coincidence, it's by design, generational design, and what you see today, the blight, the hopelessness, the disease is all part of those intentional efforts down through the years.”
This wasn’t always true of the neighborhood, residents say – at one point there were several grocery stores.
“When I was growing up in the 70s, we had Loblaws, we had a Bells, we had an A&P mart,” said Barbara Massey Mapps, the sister of shooting victim Katherine “Kat” Massey. “We had everything we needed in the neighborhood, fresh vegetables, everything. And then one day they just tore them down.”
Today, even around the Tops, there is dilapidated housing, vacant lots and broken sidewalks.
“If you were to look at a map of Buffalo, and you wanted to know which parts were suffering the most, it'd be pretty easy,” said Alexander Wright, founder of the African Heritage Food Co-op. “That is why when the massacre took place, here at Tops, it was easy for him to find us, because Buffalo is so separated and segregated.”
In the wake of the shooting, more than $1 billion has been earmarked for improvement projects on the east side of Buffalo, and elected leaders have pledged that the neighborhood and its people will not be forgotten.
But some experts and residents remain skeptical that the funding will get to the right place.
“People are making promises, we're going to give the east side $50 million, $100 million,” said Dr. Eva Doyle, a historian and author. “But a lot of people I talked to say, ‘We want to see it, we want to see, we want to see something happen. We want to see those promises fulfilled.’”
One of the ways that residents are taking matters into their own hands is through food – which was at the center of the shooting itself. This includes the push for a new location of the African Heritage Food Co-op.
“We’re happy to provide healthy options for folks within walking distance in a site that’s been victimized by food apartheid,” said Wright, the co-op's founder.
Garnell Whitfield wants to make sure that the history of the tragedy on May 14 is recorded accurately. “So many times our stories are neglected and have not been written,” he said. And he feels that working with survivors of other mass shootings, such as Highland Park, is essential to the mission.
“My mother is not going to be remembered as a victim,” he added. “And I'm not going to remember her as a victim, and I'm not going to play the role of a victim either.
Producer & Videographer: Alysha Webb
Associate producers: Jade Lawson & Sam Suzuki
Editors: David Kovenetsky, Brian Fudge, Julian Kim
Graphics: Luis Yordan, Kristopher Anderson, Daniel Perez, Katrina Stapleton, Alex Gilbeaux
Photographer: Malik Rainey
Photo editor: Gary Hershorn
Reporter: Bill Hutchinson
Senior Producer: Shannon Sanders
Visual Content Director: Andrew VanWickler
Managing Editor & Text Editor: Tom Liddy
Director - Digital Content: Paul Shin
Vice President - Digital Content: Lulu Chiang