Many Black Americans say ‘we don't feel safe’ after Buffalo mass shooting
An 18-year-old white gunman in the US shot 10 people to death last week at a grocery store in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, which authorities called an act of "racially motivated violent extremism."
A day after the massacre, longtime city resident Max Anderson found himself moving quickly through a nearby grocery.
Anderson, who is Black and who works about a block away from where the shooting took place, said being in the store to grab lunch was an “extremely anxious” experience.
“I was very uncomfortable, and I didn't stay more than five minutes,” he said. “I grabbed something and walked out, and I didn’t stay there to eat.”
Anderson, deputy director of the advocacy organization Open Buffalo, said the targeting of this predominately Black community by a shooter who allegedly espoused racist ideology has rattled him and many Black people across the US, reigniting what experts call a collective loss.
From lynchings and church bombings to the murder of African Americans by white police, hate crimes in the US have a cumulative impact. It shatters trust and can fuel collective anxiety, stress, depression, hopelessness and post-traumatic stress, experts said.
"Unfortunately, the shooting in Buffalo is another incident of racist violence, that follows a legacy of anti-Black violence that goes back to even before this country's founding," said Da'Mere Wilson, a researcher at the University of Arizona.
"This incident of collective grief, felt most acutely by the Black community in Buffalo, has reverberating effects through the coverage of these incidents through mass media."
Studies show race-based traumatic stress can result from experiences with hate crimes and racism and can lead to symptoms such as depression, physical pain, insomnia and hypervigilance, according to Mental Health America, a Virginia-based advocacy, research and education group.
In some cases, it can cause symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress, such as being on high alert to threats in public or having trouble sleeping, said Erlanger Turner, a psychology professor at Pepperdine University in California and the author of “Mental Health among African Americans.”
The known stress comes as reports of hate crimes are rising, particularly for Blacks and Asian Americans, according to an FBI report last fall.
Reports of hate crimes against Black people rose to 2,755 in 2020, up from 1,930 in 2019.
The FBI report found that of the hate crime offenses classified as crimes against persons in 2020, 53% were for intimidation, 28% were for simple assault and 18% were for aggravated assault. Twenty-two murders and 21 rapes were reported as hate crimes. Among the offenses classified as crimes against property, 74% were acts of destruction or vandalism.
Anti-Black hate crimes have long been the most prevalent, said Frank Pezzella, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who studies the causes and consequences of hate crime victimization.
Pezzella said racially motivated crimes are sentenced more severely in part because of the unique harms that radiate from individuals to wider communities, including distrust.