Buffalo supermarket shooter charged with federal hate crimes

BUFFALO, NY (AP) — The white gunman who killed 10 black men in a racist attack at a Buffalo supermarket was charged Wednesday with federal hate crimes that could potentially carry the death penalty.

The criminal complaint filed against Payton Gendron on Wednesday coincided with a visit to Buffalo by Attorney General Merrick Garland. He met with the families of those killed and laid a bouquet of white flowers at a memorial outside Tops Friendly Market, which has been closed since the May 14 attack.

“Nobody in this country should have to live in fear of going to work or shopping at a grocery store and being attacked by someone who hates them because of the color of their skin,” Garland said at a news conference.

Garland, who stopped federal executions last year, did not rule out seeking the death penalty against 18-year-old Gendron. He said “families and survivors will be consulted” as the Justice Department weighs whether to seek the death penalty.

The federal hate crime case is based in part on documents in which Gendron has set out his radical, racist worldview and extensive preparation for the attack, some of which he posted online and shared with a small group of people just before filming began.

FBI agents executing a search warrant at Gendron’s home found a note in which he apologized to his family and wrote that he “had to commit this attack” because he “cared about the future of the white race.” an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.

Three children of 86-year-old victim Ruth Whitfield said they told Garland when they met privately that they wanted to make sure he didn’t view the Buffalo shooting “as an isolated incident.”

“It’s a problem across America,” said one son, former Buffalo Fire Department Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr.

“It doesn’t stop with justice for our mother and the other nine victims. It’s how we keep these horrible crimes from happening and heartbreaking for other families,” said another son, Raymond Whitfield.

Gendron’s attorney, Brian Parker, declined to comment.

So far, the evidence released against Gendron suggests he acted alone, but Garland and FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said investigators looked into the shooter’s communications with others before the shooting.

About 30 minutes before he opened fire, Gendron invited a small group of people over to see his plans for the attack, which he then broadcast live on social media. It was not clear if any of the people who accessed Gendron’s diary or watched his live stream did anything to alert authorities.

In his writings, Gendron advanced an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about a conspiracy to reduce the power of white Americans and “replace” them with people of color through immigration and other means.

The posts detail months of reconnaissance, demographic research and target practice in an attack aimed at getting all who are not white and Christian to leave the country.

Gendron drove more than 200 miles from his home in an almost all-white town near the New York-Pennsylvania border to a predominantly black section of Buffalo. There, according to the authorities, he fired about 60 shots with a semi-automatic rifle at buyers and workers.

Three wounded – one black, two white – survived. Video of the attack showed Gendron briefly holding his fire to apologize to a white store clerk after shooting him in the leg. Gendron surrendered to the police as he left the supermarket.

Gendron wrote racial slurs and declarations, including: “Here are your reparations!” on his rife, the affidavit said.

Gendron was already facing a mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted on previously filed state charges. He pleaded not guilty to one count of domestic terrorism, including hate terrorism and domestic murder.

The federal case is likely to pose a dilemma for Garland, who has vowed to aggressively pursue civil rights cases but also imposed a moratorium on federal executions last year after an unprecedented string of death penalty cases at the end of the Trump administration.

The moratorium keeps the Bureau of Prisons from carrying out executions while the Justice Department conducts a policy review. But the memo doesn’t bar federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, a decision that will ultimately fall to Garland.

President Joe Biden has said he opposes the death penalty and his team has promised he will take action to stop its use during his tenure.

Following the Buffalo attack and another fatal mass shooting by an 18-year-old at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, New York lawmakers banned the sale of semi-automatic rifles to anyone under the age of 21.

The U.S. Senate followed suit on June 12 with a bipartisan agreement on more modest federal gun restrictions and increased efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs.

Garland on Wednesday advocated changing federal law to raise the age for purchasing some types of guns.

“The Justice Department agrees with the President that 18-year-olds should not be able to purchase a gun like this,” Garland said.

It was not immediately clear when Gendron would appear in court on the federal charges.

“This process may not be as swift as some hope, but it will be thorough, fair and comprehensive and will reflect the best of our community and democracy,” said US Attorney Trini Ross, a Ox native.


AP reporter Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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