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Buffalo residents say Biden ‘understands our plight,’ while others want more

President Joe Biden, wearing a blue suit, and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, wearing a black dress, bow their heads at the Tops memorial site of flowers and balloons attached to a tree.
Lynn Bader
Buffalo Toronto Public Media
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit a memorial site near the Jefferson Avenue Tops Market May 17, 2022.

Andrea Waker grew up in the late 1960s on Riley Street, a block away from what’s now the Tops Market grocery store on Jefferson Avenue.

“I walked up and down the street at the age of five by myself. My mother would send me around the corner to get the newspaper,” she recalled.

So seeing President Joe Biden in that same area on Tuesday was a bit surreal.

“Unbelievable that the president was right there, basically on the corner of the street where I grew up,” Waker said. “I mean, unfortunately, it was for under the circumstances, but it was amazing.”

Biden’s visit to Buffalo brought a mixed range of emotions from Western New Yorkers. Some felt the president had comforted a city still grieving from Saturday’s racially motivated shooting at Tops that left 10 people dead, while others say more than words will be needed to address the root causes of the attack that targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Andrea Waker
Tom Dinki
Andrea Waker speaks with WBFO as she helps distribute food on Jefferson Avenue following President Joe Biden's visit there May 17, 2022.

“He understands our plight of what's going on here,” Waker said. “I think it was a wonderful act of kindness and compassion, showing empathy to us and letting us know that he is concerned about what's going on.”

Biden’s first stop was the growing memorial across from the Tops parking lot, as he and first Lady Jill Biden placed down a bouquet of flowers and comforted local officials.

Evie Haris drove herself and her twin five-year-old boys all the way from Rochester to try to catch a glimpse of Biden at the memorial. She ultimately got it on her way to the site when Biden’s motorcade passed her by on Route 33.

Standing down the street from Tops as community members congregated and enjoyed free breakfast pizza, Haris said Biden’s visit had helped.

“To see the smiles on people's faces just coming down the street, I can see that this had a huge impact on people,” she said. “It made them feel better.”

However, others said much more is needed.

“What we need is substantially different than a visit from the president,” said racial justice activist Myles Carter.

Carter, who tried to run for Erie County sheriff last year, said politicians like Biden have failed to address the racial inequities facing the Black community, from mass incarceration to disinvestment.

“All these people coming from outside the community to speak on the people that died here, that were murdered here, I don't think is appropriate when they haven't been fighting for the for the Black lives that are still living, or doing what we needed from them to keep us from being in these in these bad situations,” he said.

Myles Carter
Tom Dinki
Myles Carter speaks with WBFO on Jefferson Avenue following President Joe Biden's visit there May 17, 2022.

Biden on Tuesday denounced white supremacy and the racist conspiracy theory espoused by alleged gunman Payton Gendron that Democrats are trying to replace white Americans with immigrants and people of color.

“These actions we've seen in these hate-filled attacks represent the views of a hateful minority,” Biden said. “We can't allow them to distort America, the real America.”

But Carter said Gendron viewed Black people differently because “America views people differently.”

“All those things together gaslight racism and allow people to think it's OK to come in here and treat us differently,” he said.

Prior to Biden’s remarks at the Delavan-Grider Community Center, the victims’ families got a chance to meet Biden there privately.

The family of victim Andre Mackneil said meeting Biden was a great experience for Mackneil’s three-year-old son. Biden even picked up the boy at one point.

As for whether Biden can reduce racism and mass shootings, Mackneil’s brother, Vyonne Elliot is skeptical.

“President Biden, I just would like to see him do his job, but at the end of the day, I really want to see us as a people come together,” he said. “The president can only do so much. but us as a whole is different.”

After Tops shooting, Buffalo residents question lack of national action on racism

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.