Seventy-two-year-old Katherine “Kat” Massey was a community leader and a community builder in Buffalo, New York. Retired from her job with an insurance firm, she devoted much of her time to supporting local public schools and the safety and beautification of public spaces. She cared about the issues that mattered, including gun control. Her community involvement included two decades of letters to the editor that she wrote to local newspapers.
In May 2021, the Buffalo News published yet another letter from Massey, in which she argued for more meaningful legislation to stem gun violence and specifically called for a repeal of laws shielding gun makers and sellers from lawsuits based on crimes committed using their products.
Almost exactly one year later, on May 14, 2022, Kat Massey was one of 10 people shot and killed at her local Tops market by a white supremacist teen gunman. Three other people were injured in the attack before police took the gunman into custody.
Those who knew her remember Massey as someone without hate, “a gentle soul,” in the words of her nephew at her funeral. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown noted Massey’s pride in her Black identity, as well as her deep knowledge of Black American history.
Hatred lit the match
Almost all the Buffalo victims were Black, and they were purposely targeted for that reason.
Online writings attributed to the 18-year-old white suspect refer to the baseless conspiracy theory called the “great replacement.” Influenced by vitriolic and increasingly influential racists and spread around the world via websites and social media, this ideation alleges that white populations are being systematically “replaced” by Black people and other people of color.
The gunman’s subsequent statements bear out this motivation and his deliberate targeting of Black Americans working or doing their grocery shopping in a majority Black American neighborhood. Authorities are investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
Like the 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the Buffalo shooter obtained his semiautomatic weapon legally.
A hero’s life, a hero’s death
Aaron Salter Jr., a 55-year-old former Buffalo police officer, was the security guard working at the grocery store the day of the shooting. He died trying to stop the gunman, leading his community to call him a hero.
Salter initiated defensive fire at the beginning of the attack, but couldn’t make headway against the gunman’s armored vest and combat-grade helmet. At his funeral, Salter received the full honors that would go to any active-duty law enforcement officer. President Joe Biden lauded him for giving up his life to save others. But Aaron Salter never should have had to die that day.
Losing generations of kindness and love
Nor should Kat Massey, or 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, who stopped by the store after visiting her husband in a nursing home; or 77-year-old Pearl “Pearly” Young, a Sunday school teacher and food pantry coordinator; or 65-year-old Celestine Chaney, whose family especially remembers her sweet nature.
Thirty-two-year-old Roberta Drury, shopping for groceries for family members including a brother recovering from leukemia, shouldn’t have died. Sixty-seven-year-old driver and church deacon Heyward Patterson, shot while loading groceries, shouldn’t have died. Fifty-three-year-old Andre Mackneil, a fun and caring uncle and his brother’s last surviving sibling, should still be with us. So should 52-year-old former security guard and school bus aide Magnus Morrison.
A tribute and a promise
Geraldine “Gerri” Talley, 62, also had many more years she could have given to those who loved her. Like the others lost to a single young man’s irrational hatred, Talley was remembered at a loving memorial service attended by friends and family. She was also lauded by leaders in government and the civil rights movement nationwide.
Gerri Talley was shopping at Tops that day with her fiancé. He survived. Talley had only just found out she was to be a grandmother. The reverend who presided over her service said that the love of the community must continue to endure, just as Talley’s loved ones have vowed that her legacy of kindness and good works will endure.
Talley’s son, exhausted by the constant demands from the media to speak about his mother in the days after her death, still found time to address the reason for it when he delivered a eulogy for her. “There is no point . . . for [someone] to have an AR-15 kept underneath [their] bed,” he said. This type of extreme assault weapon, he added, offers no extra advantage if the motivation is simply to protect one’s family.
Well-known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who often represents families harmed by racist policies and incidents, said he advocates filing lawsuits against the makers and sellers of guns and against anyone else whose actions abetted the taking of these 10 precious lives. This, Crump told media, “is the way we get justice.”
It’s obvious that the memory and moral legacy of Gerri Talley, Kat Massey, Aaron Salter Jr., and all the other victims will endure in Buffalo. What’s less obvious in these highly polarized times is whether that legacy will finally move politicians and the public to support comprehensive, meaningful gun control laws that will prevent more innocent lives from being cut all too short.