September 26, 2022

  • Tops grocery store has reopened in the Buffalo community months after the deadly mass shooting in May.
  • It included renovations as well as a memorial as an ode to the victims who lost their lives in the attack.
  • Jillian Hanesworth told Insider about the healing journey and the community climate amid the reopening.

Walking into the Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, New York was overwhelming for Jillian Hanesworth.

Just two months ago, Hanesworth — the poet laureate of the city — wrote a poem to memorialize the victims killed on May 14 by a white gunman who drove hours to the predominantly black neighborhood and opened fire at the grocery store.

It took her almost a month after the shooting to walk into any grocery store at all, she told Insider. But he has been to the Tops site twice since filming – the first time was the pre-ceremony for the supermarket’s re-opening in mid July.

Ten people died and three others were injured as a result of the hate crime, which was live broadcast in real time, including people she knew, like Aaron Salter Jr., the beloved bodyguard, and Pearl Young, who babysat her mother when she was a child.

Entitled ‘Water’, Hanesworth’s poem was surrounded by waterfalls displayed in the shop, which was met with an overwhelming response.

“I just wanted to do my little bit. People seem to find healing in it, and that’s the whole point of doing it,” Hanesworth, 29, who was born and raised on Buffalo’s east side, told Insider. .

The second time Hanesworth went to Tops was during the grand opening after a news interview outside the store. She went to check on her aunt, who was with her, and as she was leaving, she noticed people near her tribute.

“I was walking out, there were a ton of people just standing in front of my poem and crying. And I’m like, ‘I can’t handle this. It’s not for me today” then I just ended up leaving,” he recalls. “I haven’t returned since then and I don’t know if I’ll go in there. I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable going there.”

For some residents, reopening Tops was necessary because of food insecurity

Buffalo has been dealing with the aftermath of the attack, similar to other communities that have experienced the impact of gun violence this year — including Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois — and were left to bear the brunt of the spate of mass shootings.

“There’s no way to prepare yourself emotionally for somebody coming into a black community in your town and just slaughtering it,” Hanesworth said.

After about two months, the supermarket reopened its doors after a renovation that included emergency exits and evacuation alarms — a decision that was met with mixed reactions from the community. Associated Press mentionted.

Policemen in front of the grocery store.

Police walk outside a Tops grocery store on May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, New York.

Joshua Bessex/AP

“We felt very comfortable early on that people needed and wanted a store as soon as possible,” said Tops president John Persons. he told NPR last month. “We also realized that we had to take steps to give them the best possible food retail store that we could, and for it to be different, to look different, to feel different, something that they would be proud of that would serve them better. “

Tops is one of the main full-service grocers in the area and therefore a staple in a neighborhood experiencing food insecurity and one unemployment rate slightly higher than the national average.

Hanesworth said the attack only exacerbated those issues.

Protesters rallied outside the store after the reopening, calling for more options to open up in the area — especially for those who may need more time before entering Tops again, according to local news reports.

“We are held hostage by inhumane decisions, choices,” activist Jalonda Hill he told Spectrum News. “So it’s either we choose to go back to a store where we walk on the blood of our elders, or we stay in a community where we experience food apartheid.”

“No matter what side of that people fall on, whether it’s, ‘I’m going there every day because I need something every day,’ or I’m never going there again,” it’s all true,” Hanesworth said. he said.

“It was intense”

A memorial for the victims of the supermarket shooting is set up outside Tops Friendly Market on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Buffalo, New York.  the racist attack.

A memorial for the victims of the supermarket shooting is set up outside Tops Friendly Market on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Buffalo, New York. the racist attack.

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

Days after the reopening, Topps was hit with another threat from a Washington state man accused of saying he was going to shoot black people in the store. Officials said it was he was arrested and charged with transnational threats.

“It’s exhausting and it’s infuriating to know that people are using this moment of fear against so many people making all these false threats,” Hanesworth said.

For Hanesworth, using her art to help the community is part of the road to healing and helps her get out of bed each day, she said.

“The first few days I was heartbroken and shocked,” she said. “It took a while to fully process what happened, even though I was seeing the aftermath right before my eyes.”

He remembers the moment he first heard the gunshot. She was at a friend’s baby shower when the messages started pouring in – prompting her to make her way to the supermarket.

Hanesworth remembers seeing police at the scene and crowds of people checking out the store while gathering whatever information they could from social media.

“It was intense,” he said.

“I was out there when they started lining up the hearses in front of the store to start taking people out and I was there when they took some of the bodies out,” he continued. “That’s the one thing that if I could unsee, that’s the one thing I could unsee.”

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