Families push for reform a year after Buffalo mass shooting that targeted Black shoppers: 'He killed the best of us'

Three families who lost loved ones in the Tops massacre filed a lawsuit against the parents of the gunman, online platforms and a body armor manufacturer.

People embrace near a memorial for the shooting victims outside of Tops grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.
People near a memorial for the shooting victims outside a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., last May. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

One year after the racially motivated mass shooting at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., community members are still grappling with the tragic loss of 10 people.

“He killed the best of us,” Eva Doyle, a retired public school teacher and frequent shopper at the supermarket, told Yahoo News.

In a racist attack on May 14, 2022, a white gunman shot 13 people, 11 of whom were Black, injuring three and killing 10. The victims were described as pillars in the East Buffalo community, a predominantly Black neighborhood.

“These people were people of faith. They were community leaders. They did a lot to help the community. They serviced the community,” Doyle said.

The gunman, Payton Gendron, was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to murder charges. During his sentencing he apologized and said: “I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black.”

Doyle says the community won’t let “racism, hatred and evil” win, but she does not accept the gunman’s apology. “How dare this white supremacist come into our community and disrupt our community with this aim to kill people of color,” she said.

According to authorities, Gendron had intended to continue his shooting rampage before he was confronted by law enforcement. Since the Tops massacre, there have been dozens of mass shootings across the country.

Families of victims file lawsuit, demand justice

Payton Gendron in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom during sentencing on Feb. 15.
Payton Gendron in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom during sentencing on Feb. 15. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News/Pool via Xinhua via Getty Images)

On Friday, three families who lost loved ones in the Tops massacre filed a lawsuit against the parents of the gunman, online platforms and a body armor manufacturer. The suit alleges that the social media platforms’ algorithms inspired the attack.

“Payton Gendron has pled guilty to these murders, and is no longer a danger to society,” John Elmore, one of the lawyers representing the families, said in a statement. “However, the social media platforms that radicalized him, and the companies that armed him, must still be held accountable for their actions. Our goal, on behalf of our clients, is to make this community and our nation safer and prevent other mass shootings.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 213 mass shootings in the United States this year.

“The fact that this still is an ongoing problem within the United States is something that really victimizes these families. Every time it occurs it brings back the horror of that day for them,” Terrence Connors, an attorney for seven families who lost loved ones in the massacre, told Yahoo News. “We are in the process of looking into civil litigation, because we think that would be an excellent avenue to try to effect some changes in the way in which the gun industry operates.”

Connors said there’s no set time line on the litigation, but his clients are hopeful that “significant changes will be made so that no other family has to experience what they have experienced.”

A memorial to the victims of the racially motivated mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.,  remains on a lawn near the store.
A memorial to the victims of the Tops supermarket shooting near the store in July 2022. (Contributor/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

But Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., the director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo, says the Tops shooting sheds light on the distinction between loud and quiet racism.

“The mass shootings and killing, that’s loud racism, but this quiet racism is claiming a lot of lives,” he told Yahoo News.

In a 2021 report titled “The Harder We Run,” Taylor and his colleagues examined the conditions of Black Buffalo from the 1990s to the 21st century.

“This Tops killing was bad, but the kinds of conditions that exist in our neighborhoods and communities in terms of housing and the neighborhood conditions that contribute to poor health outcomes, and premature death, and bodies ravaged with disease, these are the issues that have come front and center since the shooting,” he said.

Taylor says that for Black people in East Buffalo, the lack of adequate housing, jobs and education has not lessened. “Most Blacks live on Buffalo’s East Side, and conditions are getting worse in many of those neighborhoods. The fate of Black Buffalo remains tied to East Side development.”

Investments in East Buffalo

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Following the Tops massacre, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a $50 million investment in East Buffalo to address disparities in the community.

“East Buffalo and communities like it have for decades suffered from significant disinvestment, neglect, and the failure of government policy,” the Democratic governor said in a press release in 2022. “We are not afraid to take on these systemic challenges, and together, with the City, the County, community members, and other partners — we’re going to do that. Today’s announcement is a down payment on the much larger amount of work that lies ahead.”

That down payment is targeting specific ZIP codes to improve housing and support businesses in East Buffalo, but not all the funds have been distributed yet. According to the governor’s office, $35 million has been dedicated to housing programs, and $7 million will be distributed to businesses in East Buffalo.

More recently, in March, Hochul announced a $2.5 million commitment to the Buffalo United Resiliency Center, which provides mental health services to the families of those killed and survivors of the Tops massacre.

“This additional funding allows us to expand services and programs to fellow New Yorkers who deserve to see our love and support turned into action,” she said in a statement.

A man looks at an artwork inside the Tops supermarket showing two smiling kids with their arms around each other.
A look inside the Tops supermarket when it reopened last July. (John Normile/Getty Images)

But Doyle says these conditions are not limited to East Buffalo. “If you go around places where you have a high concentration of African Americans, there’s a lot that needs to be done nationwide,” she said. “While we are waiting, we have to do things in our community, organize our community, help our young people, use our churches, set up tutoring, reading clubs in our community centers. We don’t do enough of that.”

Advocates say that in the year since the shooting, community members are leaning on each other to make it through. “Blacks are resilient, and they’re not fearful of attacks by racist white supremacists, although they know there is a possibility of it,” Taylor said. “But the trauma from that event, the hardship and the sadness is still there.”

On Sunday, Tops supermarket will close to commemorate and honor the lives of those killed in the shooting.