Lack of economic investment and jobs.
A single grocery store where residents can buy quality food at affordable prices.
These are issues East Side residents have dealt with for years.
In the wake of the mass shooting that claimed 10 lives at the community’s lone supermarket — the Tops store on Jefferson Avenue — residents who spoke with Investigative Post last week said they’re hopeful some good can come from the tragedy.
Hopeful, but not optimistic.
Several residents said they’ve heard the rhetoric about real change coming to the East Side before. They’re still waiting.
“When something like this does happen, it’s unfortunate that people don’t see anything change,” said 33-year-old Kendra Campbell, a registered nurse and licensed real estate agent who helped distribute food to East Side residents outside the grounds of the Tops store.
“I’m hoping and praying it’s going to be something different this time,” she added.
Campbell said the area surrounding the Tops store is no stranger to violence.
She pointed to a boarded-up house on Riley Street, directly across the street from Tops, where Campbell said she attended a party as a teenager. She said the party ended abruptly when someone with a gun started shooting at the building.
“There’s a different person with a gun at this point,” she said. “That’s the only thing that has changed.”
Campbell noted that today the house is empty, sitting next to a vacant lot. She said neglected properties just like it are common across the East Side.
“This is a community that needs help — real help,” she said.
Lack of substantive change was a consistent theme among East Side residents who spoke with Investigative Post.
While Mayor Byron Brown and other politicians have suggested millions of public dollars spent on various initiatives have led to community improvements, residents said they’re not seeing it.
“Look around,” said Jeanetta Sullivan, owner of Pudgy Potatoes, a Buffalo catering company. “You can see it for yourself, all the abandoned buildings and vacant lots and houses and houses that are boarded-up. Just look around. We’re already in dire need.”
Sullivan, 32, said the condition of the neighborhood surrounding her grandmother’s home on Butler Avenue has declined.
“I really feel like we have to face the fact that the East Side of Buffalo is hurting. It’s been hurting for a long time.”
While she remembers seeing former Mayor Anthony Masiello at the local YMCA and other locations on occasions, Sullivan said these days it feels like Buffalo’s political leaders only come to the East Side when they are looking for votes or forced to respond to a tragedy like the shooting at Tops.
“We’ve had so much empathy. Right now, the community is really looking for some real action,” Sullivan said.
Raynard and Pamela Scrivens, of Hickory Street, were planning to visit the Tops store on the day of the shooting to pick up ice cream. They said an unexpected visit from their son delayed the trip, preventing them from being at Tops when the gunman opened fire.
“When I heard about it, it was just surreal,” Pamela said. “It still is. You just can’t grasp it.”
Both Raynard and Pamela said the fact that Tops was the only grocery store in the area says a lot about conditions on the East Side.
“This is a desert as far as supermarkets are concerned,” Raynard said.
Without Tops, Pamela said many residents will be forced to shop at area convenience stores where they will pay higher prices for lower-quality food.
“That is what they will be reduced to,” she said.
“This is all we have. This is it,” she said, referring to the Tops store.
Rahsaan Delain is project coordinator for health equity with the Community Health Center of Buffalo, which is providing counseling sessions for East Side residents who were impacted by the shooting.
The 39-year-old said people are experiencing trauma, shock and “so much pain that you can’t even imagine.”
Frequently asked question among those being counseled: Why here and why us?
“As a Black community, in many ways, we’re really not surprised because it’s been a theme for us throughout our history,” he said.
For a community just beginning to pull out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delain said the experience has been even more challenging.
“There’s already inequities and disparities in our community and this is just another hit,” he said.
Delain also said he thinks it says a lot about conditions on the East Side when you consider it “took people to fight” just to get Tops to open a store in the neighborhood.
While he said he does see some evidence of public investment starting to make a difference in the community, he believes much more work is needed.
“There just needs to be more,” he said. “It just needs to be together and it really needs to impact the people it needs to impact.”
“What I’ve heard from people is that when the cameras go away and the media goes away, people will forget,” Delain added.
“I’ve also heard that people want real change, signature change.”
Carl Matthews, an elder with Fishers of Men Outreach Ministry on Bailey Avenue, said there’s a wide range of emotions on the
East Side in the wake of the shooting. He said many people are extremely sad, others vengeful.
“People don’t really know how to feel,” he said.
How does Matthews feel?
In a word: “Exhausted.”