The names of the 10 black men massacred by a white gunman were read out Thursday outside the Buffalo supermarket where they died, two months after the racist attack. A bell rang after each name in a ceremony that marked the reopening of the store. Employees, neighbors and elected officials toured the renovated store Thursday. Near the entrance, mirrors reflected the cascading water on either side of a poem by Buffalo Poet Laureate Jillian Hanesworth, which begins, “Let the healing waters flow full of hope.”
The clients will return on Friday morning.
Ten Black people were killed when an 18-year-old gunman wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a semi-automatic rifle opened fire on weekend shoppers and employees. Three people were injured in the massacre. Investigators say the shooter was motivated by white supremacist beliefs and researched the demographics of the predominantly black neighborhood where the market is located with the intention of killing as many black people as possible. He drove more than three hours from his home in Conklin, New York, to carry out the attack, authorities said.
“We must continue,” said Tops employee Rosalie Bishop, who has worked at the store for 12 years. She wants the store to reopen, and she couldn’t imagine never working with colleagues she considers family.
“The store is there for a reason. The store is still there for a reason,” said Bishop, 58, who was on his way to work when the attack happened and said he is still processing his near miss. On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted the shooter, Payton Gendron, on charges that include federal hate crimes carrying the death penalty. The federal charges were first announced last month, and Gendron has pleaded not guilty in parallel state and federal cases.
“The Department of Justice fully recognizes the threat that white supremacist violence poses to the safety of the American people and American democracy,” said US Attorney General Merrick Garland. The decision to reopen, rather than relocate, the store has been met with mixed emotions in the East Buffalo neighborhood that, plagued by abject poverty, struggled for years to get a grocery store. Since opening in 2003, the Tops location remains the only supermarket in the immediate area. Its closure after the shooting forced many residents to take buses elsewhere or rely on stopgap measures like neighborhood giveaways to access fresh food.
“We must never forget the heady pain and sheer cruelty of what happened here,” state Attorney General Letitia James said Thursday before entering the store. “Today we claim this space as ours.”
State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, whose district includes the city, said her office received calls from people who opposed reopening but said the community couldn’t wait years for a replacement. Suggestions to the local media and on social media included turning the site into a park or recreation center that would bring the community together, or having several supermarkets more spread out on Buffalo’s East Side.
Some just don’t feel comfortable walking into a store where such terrible events took place.
“I can’t go right now,” Willie Boyd, 82, said as he chatted with friends on a nearby sidewalk. He said that he knew some of the victims and that he still did not dare to walk the halls where they died.
“Eventually I will,” he said. “I just can’t right now. I just can not.
Gendron was arrested in front of the store’s main entrance.
Tops President John Persons said the store has been remodeled from floor to ceiling, with a new color palette, displays and equipment. It would have taken two to three years to build a new store, too long for the community to wait, he said.
“It’s a completely different store,” Persons said. “Everything is different.”
Just over 75% of employees have returned, he said, while 10% have yet to make up their minds. The rest transferred to other stores or left the company. Mayor Byron Brown said he was concerned when he first visited the remodeled store, but believes the revamp will help customers. Before entering Thursday, he called it “sacred ground.”
“I realize that not everyone will feel comfortable coming back to the store,” he said in a statement, adding that he is encouraging other retailers to cater to the area. Bishop, the store clerk, has already returned to work at the store to help prepare. Her first day went smoothly, but a safety drill with flashing lights on the second day sent her home in shock midway through her shift. Still, she said she doesn’t fear for her safety. The people said the security upgrades included a new emergency evacuation alarm system and additional emergency exits. Outside, the parking lot and perimeter feature new LED lighting.
“I just want peace. I just want peace,” Bishop said. “It will never be the same again. We’re not looking for the way it was. But peace.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.