Commentary: The racist Buffalo attack demands ‘not only words but deeds’

Texas Standard commentator Professor Peniel Joseph says the shooting is one of many attacks targeting diverse communities that underscore Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of “the fierce urgency of now.”

By Peniel JosephMay 17, 2022 2:13 pm, ,

Saturday’s racist attack on the Black community in Buffalo, N.Y., left 10 dead and three wounded. Texas Standard commentator Peniel Joseph says the shooting’s broader target was all people of goodwill who believe in equality, justice and what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.”

Dr. King famously spoke of “the fierce urgency of now” in warning the world against the perils of racism, war and violence. We face an urgent moment for moral and political renewal in our own time. America is facing a growing crisis of faith in our institutions, ideals and democracy. The increasing instances of violence, hatred, racism and anti-Semitism that we have seen over the past several years are part of a larger unraveling of society rooted in longstanding inequalities that go back to the nation’s founding.

The latest racist mass shooting in the nation follows a disconcertingly familiar pattern. One that has proliferated over the past decade. The anti-Black racist massacre of nine Black parishioners at the Emanuel AME historically Black church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. The June 12, 2016, anti-LGBTQ massacre in Orlando that left 49 dead. The October 27, 2018, anti-Semitic massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead. The August 23, 2019, mass shooting in El Paso that killed 23 in a predominantly Latinx community. The March 16, 2021, anti-Asian massage parlor shootings that killed eight, including six people of Asian descent. Down to this most recent racial hate crime in Buffalo.

All of these instances of mass violence reflect wider currents of racial and religious hatred, xenophobia and cultural and political intolerance. The rise of white supremacist ideologies on social media and the Internet have become normalized in the mainstream media, with certain news channels serving as a literal echo chamber to spread racist and anti-Semitic white nationalist lies. Perhaps most notoriously, The Great Replacement theory that reinterprets America’s racial, ethnic and religious diversity as a malicious power grab by Jews and people of color designed to harm whites.

It is not lost on us that the Buffalo shooting takes place less than two weeks before the second anniversary of George Floyd. That public execution shook the nation to its core during the summer of 2020. It also inspired soul searching in communities around the nation, including Austin.

‘This is a time for not only words but deeds’

Over the past two years, Austin’s social justice communities have come together in unprecedented ways to work collaboratively toward the goal of building a beloved community through sharing networks, raising resources, actively listening and learning together, and standing in solidarity when any part of our diverse and inclusive community is attacked or threatened.

On behalf of that social justice community in Austin, we wish to convey our deepest condolences for the family, friends and loved ones of the 10 people who were mercilessly killed in Buffalo and the three others who were wounded. And pledge to assist that community and city’s recovery in any way that we can.

Closer to home, we all should reaffirm our commitment to ending racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of hate nationally and around the world. This is a time for not only words but deeds. This week, the city and city leaders in Austin will be organizing a community forum at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Tuesday, May 17, from 12:15 to 1:30 pm. We will also be doing a citywide Zoom event, Stop Hatred and Anti-Semitism, that brings together a cross-section of leadership to discuss the larger meaning behind events in Buffalo and strategic steps that can be taken to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring. We are committed to living in a society where all people and communities are allowed to flourish.

The terror that we have seen in Charleston, Pittsburgh, El Paso, Atlanta and Buffalo undermines the American promise. Now is the time for all of us to collectively work together to build a world free of racial injustice, hatred and violence.

Peniel Joseph wars a hat and colorful scar and looks off to the left of the cameraPeniel Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He’s also a professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin.

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