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Family of Saturday mass shooting retains nationally-known lawyer for pending civil action

Ben Crump and Whitfield family, May 16, 2022
Michael Mroziak
Attorney Ben Crump turns to console a member of Ruth Whitfield's family during an emotional news conference Monday in Buffalo. Whitfield was one of the ten people murdered in Saturday's mass shooting at an East Side supermarket by a gunman said by authorities to espouse white supremacist beliefs.

The family of Ruth Whitfield, one of Saturday’s mass shooting victims, has retained a nationally-known civil rights attorney to represent them in future civil action.

Ben Crump, who also represents the families of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in their respective cases, is leading a legal team that includes local attorneys Terry Connors and Ken Abbarno. They appeared in Buffalo Monday to discuss what investigators say was a racially-motivated hate crime.

“I want it to be clear that what happened on Saturday was an act of domestic terrorism. And we have to define it as such,” Crump said. “We can't sugarcoat it. We can't try to explain it away talking about mental illness. No, this was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a young, white supremacist. There's no question about his intentions. And just like America’s response to terrorism, America needs to respond to this act of bigotry, racism, and hate as a terrorist act.”

Ruth Whitfield was 86 years old and was the family matriarch. A wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, she was visiting her husband, who now lives in a nursing home, and traveled to Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue to run a quick errand on her way home.

She and nine others were shot dead while they were going about their personal business.

“We're not just hurting, we're angry. We're mad. This shouldn't have happened,” said an emotional Garnell Whitfield, Jr., one of the victim’s sons. “We do our best to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in God, we trust Him. We treat people with decency. And we love even our enemies. And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again, all over again, forgive and forget, while the people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal, not to love us back. What are we supposed to do with all of this anger? With all this pain?”

The shooting suspect, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, is charged with First Degree Murder. Authorities are treating the case as a racial hate crime. They contend he willingly identifies himself as a white supremacist on a lengthy document he released on the internet, which has since been removed. He is alleged to have carried out the attack in response to the so-called “Replacement Theory.”

Crump says he and his partners intend to hold accountable not only the killer, but also sources which they say fed him the hate that radicalized him and inspired him to carry out the shootings.

“The people who curate the hate, the people who inspire hate - websites, and internet services, and cable news stations, those people who radicalized these young people to go out and orchestrate heinous acts of violence, heinous acts of hate, that is what we have to do,” Crump said. “We have to get to the root of the hate. Because if we don't get to the root of the hate, then sadly, I believe we will be back here again, grieving the loss of other innocent black people.”

Crump also blames politicians who use fear mongering to advance their agenda and gain votes. He says following an increase in attacks against Asian-Americans, legislation was passed to increase their protection. He’s demanding federal lawmakers now do the same for the nation’s Black citizens.

“She taught us to be unapologetic to those people who do not see us,” said Raymond Whitfield, who explained that after he and his parents lived in California, they returned to Buffalo to live closer to the rest of the family. “How dare you not see us as Americans? We stand here on the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. And she taught us to be proud of that fact. She was unapologetically an African American princess.”

Family members revealed that Ruth’s husband, Garnell Sr., was still unaware of her killing as of Monday morning and they struggled with the notion of having to reveal the news to him.