Buffalo’s Laureate Talks After Tops Attack, Reopening

Buffalo’s Laureate Talks After Tops Attack, Reopening

  • The Tops grocery store has reopened to the Buffalo community months after a deadly mass shooting in May.
  • It included renovations as well as a memorial as an ode to the victims who lost their lives in the attack.
  • Jillian Hanesworth told Insider about her healing journey and the community climate amid the reopening.

Walking into Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, New York, was overwhelming for Jillian Hanesworth.

Two months ago, Hanesworth – the city’s poet laureate – wrote a poem to remember the victims who were killed on May 14 by a white gunman who sometimes drove into the predominantly Black neighborhood and opened fire at the grocery store. .

It took almost a month after the shooting to get into any grocery store in general, she told Insider. But she has attended Tops twice since the shooting – the first time was the pre-reopening ceremony of the supermarket in mid-July.

Ten people died and three others were injured as a result of the hate crime, which was streamed live in real time, including people she knew, such as Aaron Salter Jr., the beloved security guard, and Pearl Young, who was a child. mother when she was a child.

Entitled “Water,” the Hanesworth poem surrounded by waterfalls was displayed in the store, which was met with great reaction.

“I just wanted to do my little bit. It looks like people will find healing there, and that’s the whole purpose of doing it,” said Hanesworth, 29, who was born and raised on the east side of Buffalo, said Insider .

It was the second time Hanesworth went inside Tops during the official opening after a news interview outside the store. She went to check on her aunt, who was with her, and as she was leaving, she noticed people near her tribute.

“I was walking out, there were tons of people just kind of standing in front of my poem and just crying. And I’m like, ‘I can’t handle this. This is not for me today’ then I just ended up leaving ,” she said. “I haven’t been back since, and I don’t know if I’ll go in there. I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable going in there.”

For some residents, reopening Tops was imperative because of food insecurity

Buffalo is dealing with the aftermath of the attack, like other communities that have suffered the impact of gun violence this year – such as Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois – and have been left reeling from a wave of mass shootings.

“There’s no way to prepare yourself emotionally for someone coming into a Black community in your city and insulting him,” Hanesworth said.

After about two months, the supermarket reopened its doors after renovations that included emergency exits and evacuation alarms — a decision that drew mixed reactions from the public, The Associated Press reported.

Police officers in front of the grocery store.

Police officers walk outside a Tops grocery store on May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York.

Joshua Bessex/AP


“We felt very comfortable early on that people needed and wanted a store as soon as we could provide it,” Tops President John Persons told NPR last month. “We also realized that we had to take steps to give them the best food retail store that we could, and that it would be different, that it would look different, that it would feel different, that it would be something to be proud of which would serve them better. “

Tops is one of the main full-service grocery stores in the area and as a result is a staple in a neighborhood with food insecurity and an unemployment rate slightly higher than the national average.

Hanesworth said the attack only furthered those issues.

Protesters gathered outside the store after the reopening, calling for more options to open up in the area — especially for those who may need more time before entering Tops again, according to local news.

“We’re being held hostage by inhumane decisions, choices,” activist Jalonda Hill told Spectrum News. “So, the choice we choose is to go back into a shop where we walk on the blood of our ancestors, or we stay in a community where we have food apartheid.”

“It doesn’t matter which side of this people come on, whether it’s, ‘I’m going to go there every single day because I need something every day’ or I’m not going to go in there again,” he All valid,” Hanesworth said.

‘It was tough’

A memorial for the victims of a supermarket shooting is set up outside the Friendly Tops Market on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. The Buffalo supermarket where 10 black people were killed by a white gunman is set to reopen its doors, two months after after that.  the racial attack.

A memorial for the victims of a supermarket shooting is set up outside the Friendly Tops Market on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. The Buffalo supermarket where 10 black people were killed by a white gunman is set to reopen its doors, two months after after that. the racial attack.

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)


A day after the reopening, Tops was met with another threat from a Washington state man accused of saying he was going to shoot Black people at the store. Officials said he was arrested and charged with making interstate threats.

“It’s exhausting and it’s infuriating to know that people are using the moment of fear against so many people making all these false threats,” said Hanesworth.

For Hanesworth, using her art to help the community is part of the healing road and helps her get out of bed every day, she said.

“For the first couple of days, I was just heartbroken but I was also surprised,” she said. “It took a while to fully process what happened, even though I was watching the aftermath right before my eyes.”

She remembers the moment she heard the shooting for the first time. She was at a friend’s baby shower when messages started pouring in – encouraging her to make her way to the supermarket.

Hanesworth remembers seeing police at the scene and the crowd of people in front of the store gathering any information they could from social media.

“It was tough,” she said.

“I was out there when they were starting to line up the gurneys in front of the store to start taking people out and it was there when they brought out a couple of bodies,” she continued. “That’s the only thing I could see, that’s the only thing I wouldn’t see.”

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