Updated Feb 15, 2023, 1:36pm EST
North America

Read what the judge in the Buffalo shooter’s sentencing said about racism and white supremacy in America


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The News

Payton Gendron, the 19-year-old gunman who killed 10 people in a racist attack in Buffalo, New York, last year was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Wednesday, during an emotional and dramatic hearing.

Before sentencing him, Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan took the opportunity to talk about how systemic racism and white supremacy in the U.S. contributed to the violent, hate-filled massacre.

Here’s an excerpt of her powerful discourse:

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This indictment speaks to the 13 victims and their families that lost the most. But they are not the only victims. There are thousands that have been traumatized directly and vicariously by this defendant’s actions. We have seen the community turn out in support and are seeing signs of much needed change in East Buffalo. It is a testament to the power of love and compassion to overcome evil and hate by turning pain into purpose. But it is just the beginning. We have a long way to go. This hateful act and other similar hateful acts across the country motivated by white supremacy and replacement theory are a reckoning for us as a nation. The ugly truth is that our nation was founded and built in part on white supremacy. Starting with the treatment of Native Americans by the first European settlers to the cruel, inhumane economic engine nation building practice of slavery. To indentured servitude, to Jim Crow laws, to government policies creating segregated public housing with communities of color often placed in environmentally hazardous locations. To the manner in which expressways were built, dividing urban neighborhoods to create easy access to government subsidized developments in the suburbs with restricted covenants prohibiting the sale of suburban homes to African-Americans. To redlining practices in communities of color, further devaluing those neighborhoods.
To the GI Bill, a well deserved financial boon to our servicemen; unless, of course, you were a serviceman of color. To the war on drugs and mass incarceration disproportionately of men of color, to the school to prison pipeline. To inequities in education, employment opportunities, and compensation. To the existence of food deserts and inadequacies in health care. Our history is replete with both individual and systemic discriminatory practices, many of them still firmly in place today. In fact, it is these very policies and practices that contributed to and made this atrocity possible. The effects of these policies, some current and others, decades and centuries old, created the segregation in our city and enabled this defendant to research and identify his target to maximize the impact of his evil intent. All of these policies and systems either sponsored or tolerated by the government and implemented by individuals were designed to destroy the very fabric of family life, opportunities for success, the creation of generational wealth, and even the mere existence of hope in communities of color. The harsh reality is that white supremacy has been an insidious cancer on our society and nation since its inception, and it undermines the notions of a meritocracy and the land of opportunity that we hold so dear. However, white supremacy is not inevitable or unstoppable. It has been carefully cultivated and nurtured by individuals and the government for centuries.
This is the history that we have all inherited. It has been passed down from generation to generation. We must acknowledge that history. See that history for what it is. Recognize it and learn from it. Or we are doomed to repeat it. Let ours be the generation to put a stop to it. We can do better. We must do better. Our own humanity requires it. As an individual, we must call out injustice in our daily lives when we see it. We must reject racism in all of its forms. We must be conscious of the power of our words and actions and the impact they have on those around us. Both intended and unintended. We must demand better of our public servants in their efforts to address inequity. And we must embrace government policies aimed at creating and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. We must make the outpouring of support, love, and compassion that followed this heinous act an everyday practice. We are stronger together. These are hard and challenging times. Our characters are being tested. The future of our nation is at stake. Are we up to the challenge? I believe that we are. In the words of poet laureate Amanda Gorman, ‘There is always light. If only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.’

You can watch the judge’s entire speech here.