‘You were elected to protect us,’ Garnell Whitfield tells Congress, demanding action after Buffalo massacre | Local News

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WASHINGTON – Seated before a panel of senators, with a crowd of others who lost loved ones in the Tops Market massacre at his back, former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield on Tuesday implored senators to act to prevent white supremacy from claiming more American lives.

“I ask every one of you to imagine the faces of your mothers as you look at mine, and ask yourself: Is there nothing that we can do?” an emotional Whitfield told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires? Because if there is nothing, then respectfully, senators, you should yield your positions of authority and influence to others that are willing to lead on this issue.”

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“We’re not going quietly into the night,” Garnell Whitfield Jr. said to a packed Mt. Olive Baptist Church Saturday. “My mother deserves more than that.” The service for Ruth Whitfield was the final funeral of the 10 victims of the May 14 massacre.

Whitfield – whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, was the oldest victim of the May 14 mass shooting – spoke to reporters after the hearing and detailed what he hopes to see out of Congress: tougher regulations on guns and legislation cracking down on white supremacy.

His comments came as a bipartisan group of senators try to come up with a gun safety bill acceptable to at least 10 Republican senators and a week after Senate Republicans unanimously rejected a domestic terrorism bill aimed in part at curbing white supremacy.

Whitfield’s testimony kicked off two days of hearings in which witnesses from Buffalo will detail the impact of the Tops massacre, which claimed 10 lives. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia and Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was wounded, will testify at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Whitfield testified at a hearing on domestic terrorism in the wake of the Buffalo attack, and he delivered a passionate call for action.

With the Tops mass shooting and one the following week in Texas fresh in the public consciousness, Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia is preparing to testify before Congress about the toll that guns have taken on Buffalo. 

“We are people of decency,” he said. “We are taught to love even our enemies. But our enemies don’t love us. So what are we supposed to do with all of our anger and pain? You expect us to forgive and forget. Again? And what are you doing? You were elected to protect us.”

Whitfield said the man accused of murdering the 10 shooting victims “was radicalized by white supremacists.”

The shooter, Whitfield said, didn’t really act entirely on his own volition.

“His anger and hatred were metastasized like a cancer by people with big microphones screaming that Black people were going to take away their jobs and opportunities,” he said.

Whitfield’s comments found a sympathetic ear in Sen. Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee. Durbin opened the hearing with a video of Fox News host Tucker Carlson discussing “great replacement theory,” which alleges that leftists want to flood the nation with immigrants to dilute the political power of the white majority.

After the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer praised Whitfield and the other Buffalo residents who came to Washington to press the Senate. Moreover, Schumer, a New York Democrat, promised to try to enact the kind of legislation Whitfield wants.

“We need action to stop this despicable bigotry,” Schumer said. “We are going to vote on gun legislation in the future. And we are going to bring this (domestic terrorism) act up again and again and again in every way we can to make sure that America knows that there are enough people who want to see righteousness done.”

The domestic terrorism bill that Senate Republicans unanimously voted to kill would have set up new units at the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to track domestic terror threats. It also called for biennial reports on the threats posed by white supremacists and other potential terror groups.

The bill was designed in part to counter a Trump administration move that eliminated white supremacy as a domestic terrorism category that the FBI reports to the states. But Republicans criticized the bill, saying it put too much focus on white supremacy while ignoring crimes committed by people on the left.

“When it comes to violence, the Department of Justice should not treat it as an excuse simply to target the political opponents of whatever administration is in power, Republican or Democrat,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican. “But instead, violent crime should be prosecuted vigorously across the board to keep people safe.”

After Tuesday’s hearing, several others who lost loved ones in the Buffalo attack stressed that action is needed to protect Black residents.

“We are demanding that an anti-Black hate crime bill be passed – not later, but now,” said Michelle Spight, who lost two family members in the shooting: her aunt, Pearl Young, and her cousin Margus D. Morrison.

Meanwhile, Young’s daughter, Pamela Pritchett, said the families of the shooting victims are intent on forcing Congress to act.

“Every tear I cry is going to be a fuel for action,” Pritchett said.

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