Buffalo’s East Side was a food desert before the shooting made things worse.
BUFFALO — Route 33 tears through the heart of Buffalo’s East Side, a scar in a segregated city that nearly demolished a Black community.
The highway devastated the economies of Black Buffalo’s commercial centers and sucked value from historic real estate, spitting grime and grease onto the windows of neighboring homes.
The East Side, where the Black population here has concentrated for more than 70 years, is hemmed in by Main Street to the west and Eggert Road to the east. Route 33 cuts a gnarly gash between the two.
The effect is a community stuck in what locals describe as a cycle of poverty and neglect.
Then the East Side was attacked.
An 18-year-old gunman opened fire on Tops Friendly Market grocery store on Jefferson Avenue on May 14, killing 10 shoppers and employees — all of whom were Black — and injuring three more.
A week later, police say, another 18-year-old in Uvalde, Tex., shot dead 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school.
Over Memorial Day weekend, there were15 more mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, marking a bloody start to another American summer.
Buffalo, locals say, is a poignant case study of some of the worst aspects of the country’s gun violence epidemic.
Investigators say the slayings here were motivated by racist hate, and that the alleged gunman purchased his weapon legally in Pennsylvania.
Locals say the attack feels like a symptom of generations of destructive policies in Buffalo. Now it has worsened another persistent problem: With its main grocery store closed, the East Side is running low on food.
“We like to call this food apartheid because the absence of these grocery stores is reflective of the range of policy choices and decisions that public and private sector leaders made,” Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., a professor of urban planning at the University at Buffalo, said.
“The consequences of not having this store open,” said QueeNia AsheeMa’at, a local activist, “is going to be greater than we can all imagine.”
It’s a struggle that reveals larger challenges for urban Black communities across the U.S., still struggling with the impacts of redlining that often blocked minorities from homeownership and urban renewal projects that tore up existing neighborhoods and depressed wages and property values.
The tough economic conditions led businesses to locate in more affluent areas where consumers had more spending power, opening the door for others that experts consider “predatory.”
The East Side — a community of about 130,000 people — has four major grocery stores, according to a Washington Post analysis, and a couple dozen smaller stores with more limited selection.
Tops was the only major grocery store within Route 33, and one of few places on the East Side for residents to fill prescriptions — another service it supplied in a chronically underserved area.
Weighted by population, Buffalo’s majority White areas have 22 percent more pharmacies than its majority Black areas, according to The Post’s analysis of data gathered by market research firm Data Axle.
Even before the shooting, Buffalo’s East Side was a “food desert,” experts say, a term used to describe areas that lack convenient and affordable healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Finding nutritious food is so difficult, residents said, that this shock to local commerce could force thousands of households toward hunger.
Elected officials and civil rights leaders here have pledged to hold accountable not just alleged shooter Payton Gendron, but also the right-wing figures who inspired his attack, and the gunmakers and distributors and social media platforms they say enabled it.