Rhonda Bishop spent 123 seconds of silence Saturday kneeling in front of a Jefferson Avenue lawn memorial, a small sea of flowers, pictures and cutout doves bearing the names of each of the 10 people killed in the racially motivated mass shooting at Tops Markets last Saturday.
“I’m on my knees and looking at every picture there, just saying to myself again and again, ‘Lord, comfort these families,’ ” said Bishop, the neighbor of victim Margus Morrison, the 52-year-old school bus aide, for 15 years. “I’ve been touched, but these families … these are people they loved. It was sad. It’s really sad.”
There was one direction that Bishop could not look. “I can’t even look over at that Tops because I know what happened there,” she said.
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Bishop was one of several hundred Buffalonians who gathered Saturday outside fenced-off supermarket on Jefferson Avenue. The purpose was to observe 123 seconds of silence, from 2:28:57 to 2:31 p.m., to reflect on the lives lost in the massacre that occurred in the same time window a week prior. The short tribute, expected to be honored throughout Western New York, was prompted by Mayor Byron Brown.
The designated quiet period stood in stark contrast to the overall atmosphere, which was chaotic. A religious group bellowed into a microphone across the street from the memorial. Worship music wafted northward, hastily turned off as the time for silence began. Food truck vendors, community organizers and local pastors added to the clamor of a loud scene, set about 100 yards from the Tops Market where workers in yellow hazmat suits were entering and leaving.
Dominique Hutcherson and her mother Deborah Dixon, who both live in the neighborhood, spoke of the fear they’ve felt since the shooting. “I’m scared to go anywhere,” Dixon said. “I’m always look around.”
“We don’t want to live like that,” said Hutcherson, a Black woman who drove to Niagara Falls Boulevard to do her grocery shopping last week so “she could be around white people” and feel safer. She added that the Jefferson neighborhood needs a bigger grocery store, more businesses and more workforce training.
Hutcherson, who’s worked in foster care for 16 years, visited the Tops Friday night. “It was such an eerie feeling out here,” she said of her Friday visit. “Today is a little different. It’s powerful, it’s meaningful.”
To honor the memory of the 10 people slain and three wounded in the May 14 massacre at the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue, Mayor Byron W. Brown is inviting the public to observe 123 seconds of silence Saturday, the one-week anniversary of the attack. He is asking people to pause from 2:28:57 p.m. until 2:31:00 p.m. – the time the shooting occurred.
Somber was the word Hutcherson used to describe the silent tribute. “In those 123 seconds … we thought about their last seconds,” Hutcherson said, referring to the victims. “I can’t even imagine. I don’t know if this neighborhood is ever going to be the same.”
Ahmad Randall, director of communications for Elim Christian Fellowship, saw the quiet tribute and sizable, diverse turnout as emblematic of the city. “This is what it’s about. Through thick and thin, every season of life, we’re good neighbors at the end of the day,” he said as he watched the crowd in front of the memorial. “The power of community overcomes conflict. That’s what’s happening right now in the City of Buffalo.”
Bishop, Morrison’s neighbor, was adamant that the victims and the community surrounding Jefferson Avenue be remembered by the larger Buffalo community long after the funerals and media coverage. “It’ll just be wilted flowers, and nobody thinks about what happens here,” she said.
The scene was far more serene at Peace, Love and Power, an event held earlier Saturday at Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium, a few blocks from the Tops. About 50 people, many representing community organizations, took part in healing-focused activities such as yoga, a drum circle, socialization, poetry, restorative justice circles and upbeat music spun by a DJ.
“We heal in lots of different ways, like drumming is a healing practice, music and dance is a healing practice, eating a piece of watermelon is healing practice, yoga and mindful movement, right?” asked Jessica Bauer Walker of CoNECT, a community network that helped facilitate the event. “Healing is not just sitting and talking to a counselor, healing is being in community.
“We already feel better just being here, being out in the fresh air, being with each other and just feeling like we’re in this together, we’re gonna get through it together,” she said.
The relaxing activities were balanced by an emphasis on inward reflection.
Here’s Dina Thompson, executive director of Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition. pic.twitter.com/CbxSIEhup3
— Ben Tsujimoto (@Tsuj10) May 21, 2022
“We have to learn as a people who we are – Black, white, and all that – then we have to learn how to love unconditionally,” said Linda Henderson, a member of Most Valuable Parents, a parent group connected to Buffalo Public Schools that advocates for several causes.
“We need to check ourselves,” she said shortly after. “We’re responsible for the actions and inactions that we didn’t do. They say when you point one finger, you’ve got three pointing right back at you.”
The Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition, PUSH Buffalo, Say Yes, the Buffalo Urban League, Yogis in Service, the BPS Food Truck, Buffalo Juneteenth and LiveWell all had a presence, with Deputy Erie County Executive Maria Whyte and Restorative Justice Coalition executive director Dina Thompson giving impassioned speeches.
More powerful words from Maria Whyte, who appeared today for LiveWell and as deputy Erie County executive. pic.twitter.com/nFuTk59bSq
— Ben Tsujimoto (@Tsuj10) May 21, 2022
Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at btsu[email protected], at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.