Several US Catholic bishops have expressed grief and spoken out against racism and gun violence after reports of a May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that left at least three injured and 10 dead – a crime classified as probably motivated by hatred of black people.
In another shooting at a Presbyterian church in Laguna Woods, California on May 15, a gunman killed one person and injured five. The suspect in that shooting was targeting members of the Taiwanese community, Orange County officials said.
In one of the strongest statements condemning the violence that took place when a gunman opened fire Saturday afternoon at a Buffalo supermarket, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas , said on May 15: “Faith compels us to say no to the rotten forces of racism, no to terror and no to the deadly silence of black and brown voices.
Bishop Mark E. Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, has also spoken out against what has been called not only violence, but also chilling racism.
“The Buffalo tragedy is not the first such violence against African Americans,” he wrote shortly after the attack. “From the ocean crossing on slave ships, in which many Africans died, to their violent treatment by slave masters, to the thousands of lynchings of blacks in the South and more recent murders of unarmed African Americans by police and civilians, even in their churches, this racism has claimed the lives of an inordinate number of black people simply because they were black. When and how will it stop ?
Responding to both incidents, Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the U.S. bishops are calling for honest dialogue “to address the continuing scourge of racism in our country.”
“The Catholic Church has been a consistent voice for rational yet effective forms of regulation of dangerous weapons, and the USCCB continues to advocate for an end to violence and for respect and dignity for all life,” said she declared. “We pray and support the healing of affected communities and for all victims of violence and that the peace of Christ be upon all affected.”
In Buffalo, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a May 14 statement that suspect Payton S. Gendron, 18, of Conklin, New York, “who was wearing gear tactical and was armed with an assault weapon” when he entered the supermarket around 2:30 p.m., was charged with first degree murder and remains in custody without bond.
Among those fatally injured are a retired Buffalo police officer working for store security, an 85-year-old grandmother of eight who cared for her husband and a 72-year-old civil rights activist.
“My office works closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners on potential terrorism and hate crimes,” Flynn said. “This is an active investigation and additional charges may be filed.”
Gendron is scheduled to appear in court on May 19.
According to reports, authorities flagged a 180-page online document the suspect allegedly left behind, filled with racist views and details of his plan of attack. There are also reports that he strapped the gear to the top of a tactical helmet he was wearing so he could livestream the shooting. He also reportedly wrote about conspiracy theories, claiming that certain groups are trying to replace white people in the United States with people of color.
the Buffalo News in an article of May 14, the author of the manifesto further wrote about the purchase of ammunition, military surplus and other preparations.
“The scourge of senseless gun violence that has claimed the lives of so many across our nation and changed the lives of countless innocent men, women and children must end,” Bishop Michael W. Fisher of Buffalo said in a statement posted on Twitter shortly after the attack.
The Erie District Attorney’s Office said the “defendant drove” more than three hours to a Tops supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, “with intent to commit a felony.”
It’s an eerily similar scenario to a 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, where the alleged shooter in that incident drove nearly 10 hours, also left behind a racist manifesto against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and opened fire on a mostly Latino clientele. at a Walmart in 2019. He also reportedly referenced the same conspiracy theory linked to the suspect in the Buffalo shooting.
In El Paso, priests from the diocese were allowed in soon after the shooting to comfort and administer last rites to the dying. Bishop Seitz visited the injured for months and wrote a pastoral letter against hatred and included the role of the Church in racism on the border.
“We know this pain only too well! Our prayers are with those who lost loved ones today, the faithful of the Diocese of Buffalo and the entire city of Buffalo,” the Diocese of El Paso wrote in a message after the Buffalo attack.
Other bishops also reached out with messages of solidarity.
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York said, “The news of the Buffalo shooting brought me great sadness and moved me to reach out to the people I remember so well and that I grew to love over the year I was there. them. I urge you to join me in prayer.
He served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo from December 2019 to January 2021.
Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Brooklyn, New York, who said he was ‘horrified’ by the attack, asked for prayers for the victims, their families and ‘an end to hatred, violence and racism in our country and in the world”. ”
Bishop Brennan of West Virginia said that while new laws can help, what is needed most is “a real change of mind and heart that leads us to recognize and affirm the value of every human life, regardless of the difference between the person and me”.
“This is the kind of change that genuine religion promotes. God created us all in his image and likeness. He commanded us to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens,” he said. “Unless we more fully embrace this understanding in America, we can expect more such tragedies – and against Jews, (Muslims) and immigrants as well as against African Americans.
He also appealed to gun owners to support the restrictions.
“We must also face the fact that the widespread availability of firearms is a crucial factor in racial violence. It is much harder to escape a bullet than a knife,” the West Virginia Prelate wrote. “I recognize that most gun owners have them for the protection of their families and themselves or for hunting.
“I challenge you, who own firearms for such purposes, to come up with ways to significantly limit the availability of firearms.”
He added: “I have lived in countries where firearms are much less available than in the United States and therefore gun deaths are much less common. We have to do better than we are doing. Weapon owners: take up the challenge!