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Guilty pleas don't end anger of victims from May 14 Jefferson Avenue massacre

Massacre victims want change now
Mike Desmond
Massacre victims want change now

For six months, victim family members have dealt with relatives whose lives were snuffed out or damaged in little more than two minutes on May 14. They have watched as two levels of the criminal justice system have probed what happened.

Yesterday, racist killer Payton Gendron pleaded guilty to all 25 counts he faced, including ten counts of Murder one. Pam Young lost her mother, Pearl Young, and doesn’t want what happened to disappear into time’s mists.

“Do I want to keep what he did out there? Absolutely, because we have to recognize White supremacy. We have to acknowledge where it came from. We have to acknowledge there were thousands of thousands who were watching this on Twitch. We have to acknowledge that.”

That was a theme during a news conference with lawyers Ben Crump and Terry Connors after the guilty pleas. Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield lost mother Ruth Whitfield and remains angry at the lack of change in our society.

“My mother didn't deserve this. None of these people deserved this. But, yet, here we are, begging, literally begging for those who are in power to do something about it. But, until we humanize each other, until we are seen as human beings, until we are treated as equals.”

Whitfield compared American society to the cancer treatment he received decades ago, with a cancer being cut out.

Mark Talley lost his mother Geraldine in the shootings. He doesn’t want Gendron to disappear into some far corner of the state prison system, once he receives his life without parole sentence.

“Erie County. Some Jail in Erie County because I'm confident the further he gets away from having a more diverse population, I believe he will eventually become idolized, out in the Aldens and the Cattaraugus Counties.”

Zeneta Everhart has a little different outlook, because her son Zaire is recovering from being shot in the Tops Market where he worked. His two bullet wounds only came close to major damage.

“My experience is different from my new-found family. I got to see my kid. Until today, I haven't watched any of you guys' news reports since May 14. I haven't watched one of them. Just hearing them read the details: Who got shot first. Zaire got shot third.”

Those in the courtroom saw video of what happened on that day, over and over again as prosecutors went through the long guilty plea process.

Lawyer Terry Connors told the news conference the guilty pleas are an attempt to block a possible death penalty charge, since Washington could decide murder and hate are enough to ask for the ultimate penalty.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.