Buffalo’s defining recovery from a mass shooting

The city’s response to the trauma from a racist tragedy shows a path for renewal.

People march to the scene of a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., May 15.

Mass tragedies often bring a community closer together, as Buffalo, New York, discovered May 14 after the killing of 10 people at a neighborhood store. Crowds gathered in prayer vigils, many singing “Amazing Grace,” near the Tops Friendly Market. Muslim and Jewish leaders gave support to the Black community, the target of a young white man’s violent, racist rage. Those affected were offered free meals along with free funeral services and free grief counseling.

“You can see how vibrant our community is,” local activist Tyrell Ford told Reuters, in citing the acts of kindness aimed at helping people transcend the crisis.

Yet amid the trauma and the calls for action against online hate and gun access, some leaders in Buffalo viewed the public’s response as the start of a better, stronger community.

“We will not be defined by this incident,” Mark Poloncarz, executive for Erie County, which includes Buffalo, told NPR. “We will be defined by how we rally around the families who’ve lost loved ones and to assist others who are in pain as a result of this traumatic experience.”

The city, he added, can be defined by “how we recover.”

That lesson fits the responses in many other places struck by mass killing and that have sought renewal alongside resilience.

After a mass shooting last year at Oxford High School in Michigan, for example, the executive for the local county, Dave Coulter, told The Macomb Daily: “The Oxford community may be destined to be remembered for this tragedy, but it doesn’t have to be defined by it. Let our legacy be the strength we showed in meeting this challenge and the resolve we have to make sure it never happens again.”

Scholars have long studied how tragedy-hit communities – from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook school shooting – can achieve “crisis renewal.” According to a 2012 article in the Review of European Studies by three American academics, “In communities, a common vision and a focus on healing and higher values appeared to be key components to community revival and potentially renewal.”

In other words, each community, based on its unique heritage, can find its way to a renewed identity. For Buffalo, that may mean a new focus on uplifting the city’s Black community. After the shooting, for example, many leaders called for financial support of Black-owned businesses. That will be one more opportunity to turn a tragic event into a renewing experience.

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