Buffalo marks Gun Violence Awareness Day, while March For Our Lives returns June 11
The City of Buffalo, still mourning and grieving weeks after a supermarket mass shooting, is marking National Gun Violence Awareness Day by pressing state and federal governments to pass meaningful reforms, and by encouraging the public to pressure their representatives, and even do their part to change some of the culture that has encouraged gun violence to continue.
Citizens are encouraged to wear orange in recognition of Gun Violence Awareness. Additionally, several buildings including City Hall will be illuminated in orange.
“This is not an urban issue. Its urban, its suburban, its rural. This is not a Democratic issue. It's Democrats, Republicans, independents, conservatives, and everyone in between,” said Mayor Byron Brown. “Our message is clear. We will not submit to the terror of gun violence. We will all do our parts to ensure the people who live in our communities are safe. We will lift our voices together, and we will not be silent until there is meaningful reform.”
It was noted during a ceremony Friday morning outside City Hall that 110 Americans die each day, on average, due to gun violence. Ten people lost their lives when a gunman traveled to the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue May 14 and, according to prosecutors, specifically targeted Black victims.
Fragrance Harris Stanfield was one of the survivors. She and her daughter were at one of the self-checkouts when they heard the first gunshots outside. But it wasn’t until security guard Aaron Salter engaged the shooter, and lost his life doing so, that Stanfield admits realizing it was time to flee.
“Hearing gunshots outside, unfortunately, did not alert us to immediately move. That tells you how gun violence affects us in our communities in Buffalo,” she recalled. “Believe it or not, there was an attack involving a gun just last summer on my street. I had no idea that I was a part of a crime scene until one of my family members looked out the window and saw that 34 shots had been shot right in front of my house.
“That didn't startle me or traumatize me to the degree that I'm traumatized at this point, because that person was not directing their gunfire at me. But just the fact that that happens in our community is a problem. It's a problem that more lives could have been saved if we weren't so used to hearing gunfire outside of the institutions where we are.”
Next weekend will bring the return of March For Our Lives. The first March, organized in response to the gun massacre at a high school in Parkland, FL drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, DC and cities nationwide, including Buffalo. On June 11, the Buffalo March For Our Lives will take place along Jefferson Avenue, passing the site of last month’s tragedy.
As of Friday morning, Gov. Kathy Hochul was anticipating the signing of legislation that raises the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic weapon to 21 and bans the sale of body armor to people outside of police or related professions.
Some community activists suggest a critical way to curb gun violence is to change the culture, beginning with youth. Pastor James Giles recalled a conversation he had several years ago with Leonard Lane, president of Buffalo FATHERS, an organization which supports inner city youth, about witnessing children engaged with water guns outside the same Tops where tragedy would unfold years later.
“I said what the problem is, is they’re not having a water gun fight like they did in the Westerns. They’re holding them like gangsters and this is a bad sign,” Giles said.
In response, a toy drive was launched to collect toy guns and exchange them for games, balls and other toys that don’t involve weapons.
“We have to start while they’re babies. If we’re going to prevent this such things like this as a violence massacre from occurring again, we’ve got to start young,” Lane said. “So what we want to do, we don't want to make our children feel too comfortable with the water guns with the BB guns. Let's trade them in for non-violent toys.”
The toy exchange will continue daily outside the Tops on Jefferson during the city’s Gun Violence Awareness recognition.