BUFFALO, N.Y. ― Priscilla Geter was standing on the roof-deck of her home on Wednesday, which was draped with an American Flag, and next to it, a Buffalo Bills flag that read “Bills Country.” She had agreed to talk to a reporter but knew it wouldn’t be easy. She thought to herself that if anyone asked or said anything to her about the shooting, tears would immediately flow down her face.
Barely half a mile away was Tops Friendly Market, the grocery store in the predominantly Black neighborhood where an 18-year-old admitted white supremacist opened fire on Saturday. Payton Gendron killed 10 people and wounded three others.
Not long before the shooting, her daughter Schacana came by the house. Priscilla gave her a grocery list, and Schacana drove up a few blocks to Tops.
Schacana called her four times because the store did not have a pot that Priscilla wanted. The fifth call was Schacana screaming for her life.
“She called me back, and she was hollering and screaming,” Priscilla told HuffPost. “Mommy they’re shooting, call 911. He’s shooting in the store.”
Priscilla told Schacana to “get down” and look for some type of safety. Priscilla could hear gunshots ringing out over the phone.
And then Schacana got quiet.
“I thought she got shot,” Priscilla said. But Schacana was making her way to a backdoor.
“Mommy, I’m out!” Schacana shouted over the phone to her mother.
Though she made it out alive, Priscilla and Schacana said the trauma of the racially motivated shooting has made the last few days very difficult.
Schacana described Tops Market as a “small” store and emphasized that it was the only grocery store in the neighborhood.
The Geters and other residents that HuffPost spoke with have seen how local police treat Black suspects on the East Side, from frequent traffic stops in the area or police stopping and approaching people for what they deem as suspicious activity. So the Geters wonder why Gendron was not met with the same aggression they have seen Black people who actually live in the neighborhood deal with. He was taken into custody alive, despite holding a gun with which he had just shot over a dozen people.
“He was able to live his life without being bothered, and decided to drive into an area where we struggle every day just to live a regular life, just to kill us,” Schacana said.
Never going back
Priscilla and Schacana have lived in Buffalo since they were born, and both said they are unsure how they will move on.
Nearly five days after the shooting, Schacana said she does not want to go anywhere. And neither does her mother. Certainly, the two women don’t want to go anywhere near the store which is now surrounded by memorial sites honoring the victims in the racist attack.
After the shooting, the Geters met each other back at Priscilla’s home. Schacana, hysterically crying, collapsed in front of her mother from distress.
“I feel blessed to be alive and survive it. But I do feel guilty for even talking about it and saying I made it out,” Schacana said. “There were other families that actually lost somebody. I didn’t think I could get out myself. I did not know at first there was a backdoor.”
Despite Priscilla’s distress, she said she had to “stay strong” for Schacana, because her daughter cannot get the victims, the shooter or the shots fired out of her head. They just kept repeating in her mind, over and over again.
On Wednesday, while talking to HuffPost, Priscilla turned to the television as Al Sharpton, an American civil rights activist, talked about the shooting. The day before, as she was watching the news, she cried by herself.
“I guess I just had to release it all,” she said. “Every morning since it feels like I am waking up to my daughter’s phone call.”
A National Tragedy
A total of 13 people were shot that Saturday. 11 of them were Black. 10 of the victims died. President Joe Biden arrived at the neighborhood located on Buffalo’s East Side where he gave his remarks on the tragedy. He called the shooting “domestic terrorism” and condemned white supremacy in America.
He and First Lady Jill Biden laid flowers near the supermarket.
John Garcia, the Erie County sheriff, described Gendron’s shooting as a “straight up” racially motivated attack on a Black community.
Despite the national outpouring of grief and support, the Geters don’t think any problems have been solved.
Schacana believes Gendron and others feel like they have opportunity to commit more acts of violence and racism to terrorize underserved Black communities — both in her city and across the country. She says businesses in the area have been getting threats referencing the shooting at the grocery store.
Just one day after the shooting, a 52-year-old man from Buffalo was arrested for making threatening calls to a Buffalo pizzeria and a brewery, saying he would “shoot up” the businesses. Joseph S. Chowaniec was charged with making a terrorist threat.
“They [white supremacists] took it [the shooting] as a green light to step out of their homes now and commit this type of violence,” Schacana said.
Before Gendron’s shooting, the East Side of Buffalo already struggled with poverty, disenfranchisement and local community violence. And the police department’s reputation was consistently poor and caused strife with the community that has garnered distrust for local law enforcement.
This was seen after Cariol Horne, a former Buffalo police officer stopped another Buffalo cop from choking a man during an arrest in 2006. The incident spawned Cariol’s law, which requires police to intervene if officers are caught using excessive force.
Buffalo police officers were also caught on video pushing an elderly man towards the pavement in 2020, causing the man to bleed from his head. The video of the incident went viral on social media just shortly after George Floyd’s killing in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers.
If Gendron was Black, Priscilla believes police would have shot him on the spot. She believes Gendron studied the community and knew before he arrived how police would interact with him after he shot the store up.
“He studied the place he wanted to attack, the people and everything. But he had to study the law too,” Priscilla said. “He knew if he came out and put the gun to his head, that they were not going to shoot him. I understand the police, but I also understand the people who wanted him shot. I wanted him shot.”