Buffalo and Systemic Racism in the Name of the Law
I’m a resident of Buffalo, New York: the underdog Rust Belt town that has historically losing professional sports teams with a rabid and loyal fanbase. In recent years, it’s good to say, we’re on the come-up.
Called the City of Good Neighbors, nothing unites the city like a snowstorm.
Or a tragedy.
I could never wrap my brain around what it would be like to stand and feel fear because someone hates you and wants you dead because of your skin color. Not just fear, but knowledge.
And therein lies yet another example of white privilege-it is a privilege not to know what this feels like.
This fearless state should be the norm.
Tuesday I attended the Common Council proceedings at City Hall. Every councilmember gave a beautiful and supportive statement of our city at large and the African American community in particular.
I am paraphrasing Councilmember Chris Scanlon, but he said it perfectly: As a member of the white community, I don’t understand what this feels like, but I will stand with you, if you will accept me.”
He further said, “don’t let this person off by calling him a ‘kid’. He planned this. He got supplies for this. There are members of the African American community who are accused of crimes of the same age and are immediately labeled, ‘murderers.’ Don’t let this person off by calling him a ‘kid’. This is an evil person.” (http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=12&ID=2241&Inline=True)
He is 100% correct.
I’d like to take this further: everything surrounding this is 1000% about race and only further underscores the complete and total racial disparity rampant across every single area of law.
The targeted mass murder of African Americans through the deliberate and conscientious choice of an evil individual, served up for live viewing online for other evil individuals who choose to watch a premeditated massacre is nothing short of small-scale genocide, supported by the statements of elected officials across the country who spew this divisively fetid rhetoric in the name of “speaking to the base.”
It’s not speaking to the base, it’s verbal clickbait rooted in the easily worn cloak of hatred and packaged as concern for “the little guy”.
White people have never been the little guy.
And these people are the same ones who make and influence the laws that govern our bodies, our money, our homes, our families, our jobs, our communities, our lives.
The fact that this terrorist was able to move, unmonitored and without suspicion or consequence isn’t solely a source of rage for me because people were murdered, it is a source of rage because the same technology used to surveil black and brown people en masse was never used to surveil a specific white person who was known to plan mass murder.
This is not a statement to advocate for an increase in a surveillance state nor to pull back surveillance. It is a call to truly analyze where we’re placing our resources, and why.
And these questions demand answers.
The individual who shot 13 people, killing 10, planned an attack at his high school, was thwarted, and evidently spent the next year regrouping and planning this attack in Buffalo, and planned to continue the murder at more locations, including an elementary school. Trying to find meaning in chaos, people are asking how an 18 year old would decide to do this. Maybe there was grooming or outside influence by others. Maybe. Just as Professor Ronald Sullivan states, “justice is a decision”, the truth is the performance of evil is a also a choice.
Evil choices do not get scapegoated absolution.
By trade, I’m an attorney. Having represented people in both criminal courts and in Family Court abuse and neglect cases I have seen the way the law interacts with people, and not vice-versa.
Through my work I learned of black kids getting arrested immediately (within minutes, police show up) after posting a selfie with a gun on social media (thanks to geo tagging in photos)…and then I look at the facts surrounding the mass shooting on Saturday and see that this person has a history of planning a mass shooting at his high school and…nothing. No watch list, no increased directed scrutiny, no nothing. I compare this to members of the Persian and Arab community who were citizens but had the wrong last name or skin tone have to jump through hoops to get paperwork sorted out so they can live normally (like take an airplane ride) while this person, this self-proclaimed intentional killer, floats under the radar.
Because the law isn’t designed to control white people. It’s designed to protect them.
Profiling of any sort is evil, but in this instance evil was found with pinpoint accuracy in a specific person and the rights around this person were held sacrosanct…no monitoring, no watchlist, no list or dossier of aliases or associates. Just gentle handling in the name of “mental health” and off he goes…to plan another attack.
If this isn’t systemic racial disparity, I don’t know what is.
I’ll explain further.
We got all kinds of respect for individual rights when it absolves us from responsibilities to care for others and protect them from actually dangerous people who are white. As Chris Rock said many years ago, “if it’s white it’s alright.”
To be clear, the person who threatened and planned a mass shooting at a high school got a free pass and was able to plan another one.
And the law appears to have allowed this to take place.
I am saddened by what happened, but fury grows with the system that ALLOWED this to happen. There is no absolution for an evil person for their evil. The fundamental failure to not just intervene effectively but to monitor a dangerous situation highlights the wholesale evil done to people of color through disparate treatment under the guise of the name of the law: from access to information (you don’t need to be an “A” student if you’d lke to go to college, or, more pointedly, if you wait until you’re 21 you can buy handguns lawfully if you’d like instead of getting them now and therefore becoming a violent felony offender for mere possession), to disparate treatment in sentencing (let’s talk about the sale of psychedelic mushrooms versus crack cocaine and those demographics and proof requirements to convict or the outcry over white death at the hands of fentanyl and heroin versus the stated criminal scourge of cocaine), to what the inside of far too many custodial settings looks like (incarcerated persons versus officers and civil servants), to historic ‘redline’ real estate banking and sales, to incongruent voting laws affecting federal elections across state lines, to access to mental health services and field trips and vocational schools for kids in poor neighborhoods, to the focus on preventing gun violence when it comes to gangs (which is important) versus the attention paid to preventing gun violence when it comes to suburban kids who plan to kill (which is non-existent), to the White Savior adopting black children freed for adoption when all the birth parents needed was a little extra help with food, housing and babysitting (meanwhile foster parents are immediately given services and financial assistance for these things without income restrictions) etc. etc. etc.
You can’t tell me kids who are living in gang-riddled areas aren’t experiencing PTSD, attachment disorders, anxiety, depression and fear and carry guns because of this. Where’s the outcry that these children need mental health and other support services when they feel they need to carry a gun for personal protection and get caught carrying one? Nope. They get felonies as teenagers and off they go to try to become adults after being in a place where Learning to Adult does not happen.
For posing in a photo.
Yet a white kid who planned a thwarted mass murder at his high school gets to carry on life without consequence in the name of checking the mental health evaluation box until the consequences of this systemic legal failure are felt acutely in the African American community.
With the murder of ten people.
This isn’t social media’s fault.
This isn’t a call for a band-aid approach to legal reform, it’s a demand for culture reform.
It’s a demand for a reckoning.
Our laws state definitively and concretely not just who we are as a society, it shows how we want the world to see us as a society.
And the view ain’t rosy.
Until we DO something to fix this, REALLY fix this, people in power are complicit and have DECIDED that the is the best course of action is to continue the gross inequities in criminal justice and overlook the blatant scourge on our culture: White Supremacy, which has seeped from the national culture into the law and through Black bodies.
I don’t know how to help or what to do in the meantime beyond food donations and prayers and kind words, but saying nothing isn’t the answer.
After the acute pain of loss begins to fade and the hopes and prayers dwindle and Election Day arrives, I’ll remember those who decided the best course of action was change.
And I hope, at a minimum, you’ll help remember those who died:
- Roberta A. Drury of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 32
- Margus D. Morrison of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 52
- Andre Mackneil of Auburn, N.Y. — age 53
- Aaron Salter of Lockport, N.Y. — age 55
- Geraldine Talley of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 62
- Celestine Chaney of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 65
- Heyward Patterson of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 67
- Katherine Massey of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 72
- Pearl Young of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 77
- Ruth Whitfield of Buffalo, N.Y. — age 86
Let us never forget.