Mourners laid to rest the last of 10 black people killed in a racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, with a service on Saturday that became a call to action and an emotional plea to end hate and hatred. violence that has ravaged the United States.
The funeral of Ruth Whitfield, 86, the oldest of 10 people killed in the attack two weeks ago, included an impromptu speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris. She attended the service at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo with her husband, Doug Emhoff.
Harris told mourners it was time for “all good people” to stand up against the injustice that happened at Tops Friendly Market on May 14 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, in Texas this week and in other mass shootings.
“This is a time that demands all good people, all people who love God, to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate this. Enough is enough,” said Harris, who hadn’t planned to speak and came to the microphone at the urging of Reverend Al Sharpton.
“We will come together on the basis of what we all know we have in common, and we will not let these hate-motivated people separate us or cause us to feel fear.”
After the funeral, Harris and Emhoff visited a memorial outside the supermarket. The Vice President left a large bouquet of white flowers and the couple paused to pray for several minutes.
President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, laid flowers at the same memorial on May 17 and visited the families of the victims. Biden is expected to travel to Texas for a visit this weekend with families of victims of Tuesday’s school shooting.
“We know what works”
Harris later told reporters that the administration was not “sitting around waiting to find out what the solution looks like” to the problem of gun violence in the country.
“We know what works on that,” she said, reiterating her support for background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
“Let’s demand a ban on assault weapons,” she said. “An assault weapon is a weapon of war that has no place, no place in civil society. Background check: why should anyone be able to buy a weapon that can kill other human beings without at least knowing: Hey, this person has committed a violent crime before, are they a threat to themselves or to others?”
Harris said the United States must also unite.
“We have to agree that if we want to be strong as a nation, we have to stay strong, identifying our diversity as our unity,” she said.
It’s been a sad week of farewells for the family and friends of Buffalo shooting victims, a group that includes a restaurant worker who went to the market to buy his three-year-old’s birthday cake ; a father and die-hard Buffalo Bills fan who worked as a school bus aide; and a 32-year-old sister who moved to town to help a brother who was battling leukemia.
Hate Motivated Killer
Whitfield, a grandmother and mother of four, was inside the supermarket after visiting her husband of 68 years in a nursing home when a gunman identified by police as 18-year-old Payton Gendron , began the murderous assault.
Authorities said Gendron, who is white, targeted the store three hours from his home in Conklin, NY, because it is in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who paid a fiery tribute to Whitfield at the start of the funeral service, called on all ‘accomplices’ who aided and abetted ‘that monster’ who opened fire in the supermarket to be held responsible – from gun manufacturers and distributors to the suspect’s parents.
Crump said those who “educated and radicalized this insecure young person” should also be held accountable for taking Whitfield away from her family, the Buffalo community and the planet. He called her “one of the most angelic figures we have ever known”.
“It’s a sin that this depraved young man, not a boy, went and killed Ruth Whitfield and the ‘Buffalo 10,'” Crump said, referring to the victims.
“Epidemic of racial violence”
Sharpton described being shocked to learn that the gunman had livestreamed his assault on Twitch, noting that his own mother grew up in Alabama, where hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan once killed black people.
Today, he said, white supremacists “take pride in practicing racism.”
Sharpton advocated for gun control measures during his eulogy, saying all communities must come together and “disarm the enemies”.
“There is an epidemic of racial violence that is accommodated by gun laws that allow people to kill us,” he said. “You don’t have to like us, but you shouldn’t have easy access to military weapons to kill us.”
A total of 13 people were shot in the attack, which federal authorities are investigating as a hate crime. Three people survived.
Whitfield was the mother of former Buffalo Fire Marshal Garnell Whitfield.
Gendron is charged with first degree murder and is being held without bond. His lawyer pleaded not guilty on his behalf.