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The Horrific Mass Shooting in Buffalo: How to Talk with Young People

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Another mass shooting has taken place, a violent massacre in which the shooter targeted a Black community after posting a white supremacist tract online that espoused virulently antisemitic and racist beliefs. 

On May 14, 2022, a gunman entered a supermarket in a largely Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York and shot thirteen people, killing ten people and injuring at least three others. Almost all of the victims are Black. The gunman was identified by law enforcement as eighteen-year-old Payton Gendron, who allegedly drove more than 200 miles to engage in this attack, one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent U.S history. He was armed with an assault weapon and wore body armor. An anti-Black racial slur can be seen on his gun, which was captured on video by his live streaming of the attack.  

Later that evening, Payton Gendron was arrested and arraigned on first-degree murder charges. Investigators said the FBI is investigating this “both as a hate crime and racially motivated violent extremism.”

Shooter posted a racist manifesto

Before the shooting, the gunman allegedly posted a vitriolic, racist and antisemitic 180-page manifesto detailing his reasons for the attack. According to the manifesto, he chose that store and neighborhood because it had the largest percentage of Black residents near his home in New York’s Southern Tier, a predominately white area. The manifesto’s language is similar to previous rants posted by white supremacist shooters and refers repeatedly to the virulently racist and antisemitic Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which argues that Jews are responsible for non-white immigration into the United States and that non-white immigrants will eventually replace and lead to the extinction of the white race.

Talking with young people

In the aftermath of this horrifying shooting and during the days and weeks ahead, many with young people in their lives—parents, educators, family members and others—will struggle to talk with young people about this. It’s critically important to do so. Even though some may feel reluctant to raise this sensitive topic with young people, many young people will already know about this tragic incident through overheard conversations at home and on the school playground, on social media and in other spaces and places.  

It is vital that the adults in their lives are intentional about those conversations and to be there for young people. Discussing this will let them know you care and will allow them to express their feelings, understand what happened, reflect on the injustice that’s taken place, and do something about it if they want to. 

Here are some specific suggestions:

 

  • Be there for young people emotionally.

    Provide the time and space for young people to express the range of feelings they may be experiencing. Listen with empathy and compassion. Be mindful of the racial composition of your school and community and prioritize those identities and communities harmed and feeling threatened by this attack. Share your thoughts, feelings, perspective and values on what happened and what you think should be done. In an age-appropriate way, assess what young people already know, correct any misinformation, and answer their questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be clear about that and promise to find out or resolve to investigate together. For the youngest children, follow their lead, respond in simple but accurate terms and focus on the helpers—including those who are helping to keep things safe and actions that are taking place to call out and counter the injustice. If you have ideas about doing something together—either at home, at school or in your community—make plans to do that. Use ADL's Empowering Young People in the Aftermath of Hate to share and discuss more.

  • Talk about race and racism.

    All the information coming out of Buffalo points to the fact that this was a racist incident that targeted the Black community. It is important to frame it as such. At home and in the classroom, set up a space and environment where race and racism can be discussed in safe and brave ways. Share information about what happened and how it connects to the larger issues of white supremacist extremism in our country and that also normalizes racial violence. Putting this incident into the context of other incidents of racial hatred and violence—both historical and current day—will help young people contextualize what happened. Another area of discussion is how both law enforcement and the media address this incident. Help young people analyze how different outcomes and perspectives may take place depending on the race of the perpetrator and the victims. In addition, think together about how allyship, advocacy and activism can make a difference. Use ADL’s Race Talk: Engaging Young People in Conversations about Race and Racism and Helping Students Make Sense of News Stories about Bias and Injustice to reflect and learn more.

  • Address gun violence and mass shooting.

    The incident in Buffalo was a mass shooting and the gunman was armed with an assault rifle. Raising the issue of gun violence and mass shootings, in an age-appropriate way, is important. Unfortunately, we feel compelled to engage in these conversations all too often as the issue of gun violence is in the news frequently and has impacted many communities. This attack was particular to a white supremacist ideology and that should be addressed as well (see below). Mass shootings like this often raise strong feelings and opinions about what happened and what should be done. The feelings can range from sadness, hopelessness, frustration and rage. Incidents like this can lead to conversations about gun laws in the U.S. and what our state and federal governments should do about the proliferation of guns, especially assault weapons such as the one that the alleged shooter used in Buffalo. Public opinion continues to show that many Americans see gun violence as a problem in the U.S. Use ADL’s Table Talk Gun Violence and Mass Shootings to learn and discuss more.

  • Reflect on white supremacist domestic extremism.

    While information is still emerging, the alleged shooter’s 180-page manifesto, along with his violent and white supremacist views online, necessitate discussions about white supremacist extremism. Domestic extremism and white supremacist extremism are on the rise and are dangerous and threatening to many communities. Young people, and in particular white tweens and teenage boys and young people, are being targeted by white supremacist extremists who are attempting to recruit and radicalize them, especially in digital spaces (e.g., gaming, social media, streaming platforms). It is important to talk with young people about the hate, violence and white supremacist language and images they see online and how they can counter it. In addition, addressing the “great replacement” conspiracy theory and other conspiracy theories rooted in antisemitism that blame and scapegoat Jewish people, can be examined. Use ADL’s Extreme Measures: How to Help Young People Counter Extremist Recruitment to analyze and discuss more.

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