Mourners laid to rest the last of 10 Black people killed in a racist attack at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket with a service on Saturday that became a call to action and an emotional plea to end the hate and violence that has wracked the United States.
The funeral for 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield — the oldest of the 10 people killed in the attack two weeks ago — included an impromptu speech by U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris. She attended the service at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo with her husband, Doug Emhoff.
Harris told the mourners this is a moment in time for “all good people” to stand up to the injustice that occurred at Tops Friendly Market on May 14, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, this week and in other mass shootings.
“This is a moment that requires all good people, all God-loving people to stand up and say we will not stand for this. Enough is enough,” said Harris, who wasn’t scheduled to speak and came to the microphone at the urging of Rev. Al Sharpton.
“We will come together based on what we all know we have in common, and we will not let those people who are motivated by hate separate us or make us feel fear.”
Following the funeral, Harris and Emhoff visited a memorial outside the supermarket. The vice-president left a large bouquet of white flowers, and the pair paused to pray for several minutes.
President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, had placed flowers at the same memorial on May 17 and had visited with the victims’ families. Biden is expected to head to Texas for a visit this weekend with the families of the victims of Tuesday’s school shooting.
‘We know what works’
Harris later told reporters that the administration is not “sitting around waiting to figure out what the solution looks like” to the nation’s gun violence problem.
“We know what works on that,” she said, reiterating support for background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
“Let’s have an assault weapons ban,” she said. “An assault weapon is a weapon of war with no place, no place in civil society. Background checks: Why should anyone be able to buy a weapon that can kill other human beings without at least knowing: Hey, that person committed a violent crime before, are they a threat against themselves or others?”
Harris said the U.S. has to come together, as well.
“We have to agree that if we are to be strong as a nation, we must stand strong, identifying our diversity as our unity,” she said.
It’s been a sad week of goodbyes for family and friends of the Buffalo shooting victims, a group that includes a restaurant worker who went to the market to buy his three-year-old’s birthday cake; a father and die-hard Buffalo Bills fan who worked as a school bus aide; and a 32-year-old sister who moved to the city to help a brother battling leukemia.
Killer motivated by hate
Whitfield, a grandmother and mother of four, had been inside the supermarket after visiting her husband of 68 years in a nursing home when a gunman identified by police as 18-year-old Payton Gendron began the deadly onslaught.
Authorities said Gendron, who is white, targeted the store three hours from his home in Conklin, N.Y., because it is in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
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Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who delivered a fiery tribute to Whitfield at the beginning of the funeral service, called for all “accomplices” who aided and abetted “this monster” who opened fire in the supermarket to be held accountable — from gun manufacturers and distributors to the suspect’s parents.
Crump said those those who “instructed and radicalized this young, insecure individual” should also be held to account for taking Whitfield from her family, the Buffalo community and the planet. He called her “one of the most angelic figures that we have ever known.”
“It is a sin that this young depraved man, not a boy, went and killed Ruth Whitfield and the ‘Buffalo 10,”‘ Crump said, referring to the victims.
‘Epidemic of racial violence’
Sharpton described being floored to learn the shooter live-streamed his assault on Twitch, noting how his own mother had grown up in Alabama, where hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan once killed Black people.
Today, he said, white supremacists “are proud to practise racism.”
Sharpton made a pitch for gun control measures during his eulogy, saying all communities need to come together and “disarm the haters.”
“There is an epidemic of racial violence that is accommodated by gun laws that allow people to kill us,” he said. “You ain’t got to love us, but you shouldn’t have easy access to military weapons to kill us.”
In all, 13 people were shot in the attack, which federal authorities are investigating as a hate crime. Three people survived.
Whitfield was the mother of former Buffalo fire commissioner Garnell Whitfield.
Gendron is charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail. His lawyer has entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.