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Senate Debate Shows Raw Emotions, Blame For Buffalo Shooting

FBI Investigators enter the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. on Monday, May 16 2022. (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)

Sen. Tim Kennedy and Sen. Sean Ryan, in impassioned speeches Monday on the floor of the state Senate, called for society to fight back against white supremacy in the wake of a shooting that left 10 people dead in Buffalo on Saturday.

Kennedy and Ryan, Democrats who represent Buffalo in the state Senate, spoke during debate over resolution J.2634, expressing condolences to the Buffalo community and applauding those who acted immediately as Payton Gendron of Conklin, N.Y., carried out his attack.

“I don’t know whether to yell or cry,” Ryan said. “Who did this? A man-child 18 years old. For the love of God how does an 18-year-old get this much hate in their heart and how do they get an assault weapon. They’ve probably never been to Buffalo before. They drove 2.5 hours from their bucolic country town because they were afraid Black people and minorities are taking over the country. This 18-year-old man-child thought he had to respond to the call of action.” “Where does this call come from? It’s all over our media. Turn on Fox News. Go to any of the blogs and you’ll hear it. The replacement theory — there’s an elitist conspiracy taking place in America to have minorities replace white people. You may laugh and say, ‘Well, that’s the craziest thing in the world.’ Well, almost every one of the mass murders I just read were fueled by that theory.”

Gendron bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting legally at a store in Endicott, N.Y. within the past few months, according to the store’s owner in an Associated Press report. Robert Donald, owner of Vintage Firearms, told ABC News and The New York Times that he has records of the purchase, but does not remember selling the rifle to Gendron. He said Gendron passed an instant background check on the day he bought the weapon. He said federal agents informed him that the rifle he sold to Gendron was used in the shooting.

Sen. Fred Akshar, R-Binghamton, represents the area that includes Gendron’s hometown of Conklin, a town of about 5,000 people just north of the Pennsylvania border in Broome County. Akshar said Gendron’s actions shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of the communities Akshar represents.

“My distinguished colleague from Buffalo, Senator Ryan, said ‘they’ came from,” Akshar said. Let us remind ourselves it wasn’t ‘they’ came from. He came from that community. As I said, he doesn’t reflect the people of the community that I so proudly represent. I think we have some options here, and it is truly my hope Madame President that we not continue down this path of right wing this, left wing that. We can’t continue down a path on which we add fuel to the fire or we fan the flames. We don’t allow allow this conversation to become hyperpolitical, that we allow this issue not to divide us but, as Senator Lanza said, unite us. As colleagues in this august body, as New Yorkers that truly is my hope that we can find some common ground around this issue to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Zaire Goodman, 20, is the son of one of Kennedy’s staff members and was injured during the shooting. Goodman will celebrate his 21st birthday next week and is expected to recover from his injuries.

“His mother has called it divine protection,” Kennedy said. “It certainly is a miracle, a light in the midst of our darkest day. He is now at home in his mother’s care. Our hearts are shattered for the families who won’t be able to welcome their loved ones home to provide them the tender loving care they, too, deserve. Our entire community, our entire state, and our entire nation is devastated. And now in the wake of this massacre we’re left to wonder why. Why would someone drive for hours to commit a murder in cold blood? What would cause someone to be so hateful and so cruel?”

Diaries and writings by Gendron say the rampage was intended to terrorize nonwhite people and get them to leave the country, according to Associated Press reports. It parrots ideas left behind by other white killers whose massacres he had extensively researched online. White replacement theory has been the motive behind white supremacist mass killers at a Norway summer camp in 2011, two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques in 2019, a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, and a Black church in Charleston, S.C. in 2015.

Gendron’s purported written diatribe and some of the methods indicate he closely studied the Christchurch shooter — particularly the effort to livestream his rampage. According to apparent screenshots from the Buffalo broadcast, the shooter inscribed the number 14 on his gun, which Pitcavage says is shorthand for a 14-word white supremacist slogan.

“We must all reject this evil evil worldview of white supremacy and we need to call it out and rule it out every single opportunity that we get and every time it rears its ugly head,” Kennedy said in a fiery speech on the Senate floor. “Every one of us has a moral duty to call it out where we see it and when we see it whether it’s on social media, on our airwaves on TV and anywhere we hear or see it in the community — even in the halls of our government. We haven’t done enough as a state and as a nation. We must recommit ourselves here and now to combat this scourge on our society. And if we’ve ever needed justification for a strong and ironclad federal assault weapon ban and background checks, this is it. This is it. This morally bankrupt worldview of white supremacy and white nationalism that has taken hold in our society must be stopped and it must be stopped in its tracks today. Enough is enough. Buffalo is the City of Good Neighbors. But being good neighbors didn’t prevent the devil from visiting us on Saturday afternoon.”

As Gendron’s senior year of high school wound down, he logged on to a virtual learning program in economics class that asked: “What do you plan to do when you retire?”

“Murder-suicide,” Gendron typed.

Despite his protests that it was all a joke, Gendron was questioned by state police over the possible threat and then taken into custody and to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation under a state mental health law. Gendron threatened to carry out a shooting at Susquehanna Valley High School around the time of graduation, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from the hospital.

That history, and the fact Gendron was still able to purchase a weapon, caught Sen. George Borrello’s eye. The Sunset Bay Republican said allowing children to spend too much time online in virtual worlds where there aren’t consequences for their thoughts and actions is allowing evil to fester.

“We live in a world, quite frankly, where we have ignored, because we are concerned, the great need to address those with violent mental illness and tendencies,” Borrello said on the Senate floor. “We have shut down hospitals to deal with that, we have shut down observation beds. We have actually said we don’t want to give mental health professional the opportunity to take a little more time to evaluate someone to see if they are dangerous enough to see if they should be held. We want to place blame, but the reality is evil exists. And until we recognize the fact that we are allowing that evil to fester this will not come to an end. … Regardless of my political affiliation and my political philosophies, I’m proud to stand here as a fellow Western New Yorker. Madame President, we move forward now. The pain that drives us, I hope, will lead us to a better future.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

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