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Black Buffalo community is tired of hearing promises when the killings don't stop

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The investigation is underway. The vigils have begun - also, the cries for justice. We mark another mass shooting in America, this one motivated by racism. Ten people are dead after the alleged shooter opened fire at a grocery store Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y. The grief has intensified as the names of the victims have been released to the public. NPR's Quil Lawrence joins us now from Buffalo.

Quil, just start by telling us about the state of the investigation right now.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The latest information was that the 18-year-old suspect had actually been in state police custody last year in his hometown after making a general threat at his high school. He was given a mental health evaluation and wasn't deemed to be dangerous. Of course, he's now in custody. He's on suicide watch because he did briefly point the gun at his own chin during the shootout with police - when he surrendered to police. And he's being kept apart from other prisoners.

MARTIN: You have visited the scene of the murders outside that Tops grocery store. You put together a story about what you heard from people there in that community as they came together. Let's listen to that.

TIM BROWN: The only one we can lean on is God...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes.

BROWN: ...Because in a few days, all these cameras will leave.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yup. That's reality.

BROWN: And it'll just be us.

LAWRENCE: That's Pastor Tim Brown speaking at a crowded interfaith vigil on the corner of Jefferson Avenue outside the Tops supermarket.

BROWN: Nobody will remember that ten people lost their lives...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yes.

BROWN: ...Except for those families...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's here.

BROWN: ...That are still here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yup. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: That's right - what's up.

BROWN: This community has been devastated by economic depression.

LAWRENCE: Brown's talking about this neighborhood on the east side of Main Street. That's where 85% of Black people in Buffalo live. And he spoke about the alleged shooter.

BROWN: And now on a terrorist attack...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

BROWN: ...On our community. And what we need now is unity.

(APPALUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Talk about it. Talk about it.

BROWN: The indoctrination of a boy...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Yeah. Yes.

BROWN: ...To kill people that don't look like him is only because somebody is having a conversation...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Yes. Yeah.

BROWN: ...That divides our people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: That's right.

BROWN: ...As a race and as humanity.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Yes. Right.

LAWRENCE: Reverend Denise Walden is a community organizer who calls for prayer and action.

DENISE WALDEN: God, I ask for a mighty move in your people, oh, God, because the one thing I know for sure is faith without works is dead.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: Yes. Say it. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: Yes.

WALDEN: Put a work in our hearts...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: Yes.

WALDEN: ...Father God.

LAWRENCE: Jewish and Muslim faith leaders also spoke to the diverse crowd, where people listened and shouted encouragement and broke into song.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Amazing Grace, how sweet...

LAWRENCE: But that feeling of unity fractured briefly when it came to politicians from out of town.

LETITIA JAMES: Buffalo, I wanted to come here today, one, because I know that you're in pain.

LAWRENCE: New York Attorney General Letitia James started speaking but was shouted down.

MYLES CARTER: Letitia James, have they prosecuted the police that were hurting our people?

JAMES: There's a lot of pain in this neighborhood.

CARTER: She hasn't said it for Buffalo, so (inaudible).

LAWRENCE: The crowd was divided, many calling to let their guests speak. James is a leading Black voice in New York. But others seemed tired of hearing promises when the killings don't stop. The man who interrupted her, Myles Carter, lives just one street over. He was at a community meeting when the shooting happened and people started finding out who had died.

CARTER: You know, I've heard a mother cry before when she loses a child. But it's not something that I've ever had to hear over and over and over and over again in one day. And it just - it really just got, like, deep into my soul.

LAWRENCE: He said he's been traumatized by this but also by police violence against his community.

CARTER: They kill us in the jails. The police kill us on the streets. They don't prosecute people that kill us on the streets either. And that's part of the problem, is, like, you know, they bring Letitia James here, and she's a sister. And I'm not trying to come at her in any other way. But she could make a difference by prosecuting these police officers that are killing Black people in the streets. And that would make a sign that it's not OK to kill Black people.

LAWRENCE: Carter says he's got five kids. He says he's afraid to be raising them here in Buffalo and in America.

MARTIN: Quil, you're still with us. It's really interesting to hear that criticism of Letitia James. New York's governor, Kathy Hochul, was also in Buffalo yesterday, right? What was her message?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. She was there along with Letitia James. And they spoke at a press conference in the firehouse near the scene. She's actually from Buffalo. And she was talking about - that knowing this specific neighborhood and how much it relies on that Tops supermarket, that the neighborhood's a food desert otherwise. And it will definitely need help in the short term. And in the long term, she said she'll keep fighting to tighten gun laws not just in New York, but in surrounding states, where she says some of these military-style weapons are legal and easily trafficked across the border. She also said that she's hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will help New York uphold its gun laws, that the court is considering a challenge to New York's strict concealed weapons law. And - but she said she'll keep fighting on that. She's hoping to hear from across the aisle for some - from - some bipartisan assistance on that. But she said as of yesterday, she hadn't heard anything yet.

MARTIN: A familiar pattern, to be sure. NPR's Quil Lawrence reporting from Buffalo. Thank you.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.