Family members of victims of the mass shooting at Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, called for gun reform and legislative action against anti-Black hate on Tuesday.
The family members spoke in Washington, D.C. after a Senate Judiciary hearing on domestic terrorism in the wake of the Buffalo attack and were joined by attorney Ben Crump and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
“I am asking the Senate for their support, not only for me and my family, but for all the families who are affected by mass shooters,” Kimberly Salter, widow of shooting victim and Tops security guard Aaron Salter said. “I am asking, pleading that the Senate do all that they can, that Congress do all that they can. It’s not about Republicans, it’s not about Democrats, it’s about people, it’s about human life. It’s about our existence, it’s about our democracy.”
Michelle Spight and Dominique Douglas, both cousins of shooting victim Margus Morrison, called on lawmakers to pass a bill against anti-Black hate.
“There are bad people and I don’t know why we’re arguing about it. I don’t know why we’re arguing about ways to stop those bad people,” Douglas said. “I refuse to believe everyone’s narrative that this is some battle between Blacks and Whites or between anyone. Because it’s not, we’re not fighting, we’re not fighting anyone, we’re asking for help. We’re asking for support.”
Zeneta Everhart, mother of Zaire Goodman, a Tops employee who was injured in the shooting, said she was pleading with senators to “raise the age on buying guns.” She added that legislators also need to fix the country’s education system so that “true African American history” can be taught properly.
“We are pleading with Senate, with our elected leaders – we are pleading with you to raise the age on buying guns. We are pleading with you to fix the education system in this country, because if we’re not teaching true African American history in this country, we are doing a disservice to everybody,” Everhart said. “Racism has always been a part of this country, but we’re not going anywhere. So we’re going to have to figure out how to live together.”
“We’re not naïve enough to think that we can do this alone. This is a clarion call for all of us, as human beings, as Americans, to stand up and speak truth to power, to put our own comfortability at risk for something greater, to risk our security for each other. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re asking America to do,” Garnell Whitfield, elder son of shooting victim Ruth Whitfield, said. “We’re not here asking for handouts, we’re not here asking for favors. We’re just asking to level the playing field, treat us like human beings, that’s all.”
Last week, the 18-year-old suspect, Peyton Gendron, pleaded not guilty to the 25-count indictment against him.
Gendron was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of second-degree murder as a hate crime and three counts of attempted murder as a hate crime, according to the indictment. He also faces a domestic terror charge and a weapons charge, the indictment shows.
Authorities allege ample evidence indicates the White teen was motivated by race and that he targeted a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood,
An Erie County jury indicted Gendron on one count of domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree for killing the 10 individuals “in whole or in substantial part because of the perceived race and/or color of such person or persons regardless of whether that belief or perception was correct,” the indictment reads. It’s the first time the charge has been levied since it was added to state law in 2020, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced.
If convicted, Gendron faces life without parole, the only sentence for the domestic terror charge, Flynn said. In order to use this charge, prosecutors have to prove five or more individuals were murdered with the intent of racial motivation, he added.
CNN’s Mark Morales contributed to this report.