On May 15, 2022, I attended the prayer vigil held for the victims of mass shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX. It was held at the Bethel Gospel Assembly in Harlem. The Massacre in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX and there have been others and in all probability there will continue to be more. I have often been asked if the violence today is different from the violence of yesteryear. My answer is that it is the same yet different. It is more pervasive and diverse. There has always been violence against people of African Ancestry far surpassing the violence today. What makes the violence different today or at this time is the pervasiveness. No corner of the country is untouched and the violence is widely diverse.
Recently in Brooklyn a mother was accused of killing her baby. In Brooklyn, not long ago, a subway of people was sprayed with bullets and smoke by a lone gunman. In New Jersey, a man was accused of chasing and running down a woman in his car. Youth violence is just as pervasive, it seems that everybody has a weapon and everybody seems to be on edge, ready to fight, shoot, knife, in other words everyone seems to be eager to hurt or to kill in some fashion.
What is the cause?
We cannot say that all of the violence is directly related to racism. It may be that the hatred for people of African Ancestry might've sown the seeds that have brought forth the diversity and pervasiveness of the violence today. But the reason surely is not only racism, but it might be something equal to racism. It is the absence of respect or appreciation, in other words the general feeling that we are all human. Also, the absence of respect for American institutions; judiciary, press, government, etc.
And what has fed into what we are presently living in a time where what used to be respected no longer has that quality. Even the institutions in America are no longer respected or seen as helpers, especially the needy. The political system has not always been viewed as perfect. Yet, there was a general consensus that there was enough fairness to concede, that whoever wins an election deserves to serve. Nowadays the political system is open to suspicion by just about everybody. Whoever won, did it unfairly, cheated, used underhanded methods. So the country is deeply divided and the election system is being fought over for control, employing all kinds of methods. Even the medical system is distrusted by many. As we went through and are going through the covid time, the credibility of scientists and doctors were seen as enemies by the highest authorities in the land. The school system relative to curriculum has become a political football.
Churches, synagogues and/or religious institutions have become targets of hatred. So there are no authorities or systems or traditions that can put breaks or a stop over the pervasive hatred. Inevitably the situation is going to lead to violence. Everybody says he/she wants to do something about it. But everybody goes his/her own way. What is clear is that each one needs to search his/her heart and be the person they want others to be. Someone has said, “be the person you want to see changing the world.”
But deeper than the reasons of violence than what has already been discussed is behind it all is a spiritual reality. The Bible says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 KJV So how do we engage in the struggle against spiritual realities? Well the Bible gives us an answer in putting on the whole armor of God. The Bible teaches the weapons of our warfare are faith, prayer and the word of God, the Holy Bible. And I might add, as the songwriter put it, “Love, mercy and good deeds”.
When I think of the massacre in Buffalo, I think of Arthur Eve. Arthur Eve was Deputy Speaker for the New York State Legislature. He was highly regarded and effective as a legislator. One day in 1977, I took a busload of members from my church to Albany, the capital of New York to witness the legislators in action. While there, Arthur Eve said to me, “I am going to run for the Mayor of Buffalo, come up and help me.” I responded, “I’ll be there” and I was. Arthur Eve did throw his proverbial hat in the ring. We did go up to help him, on two occasions I took busloads.
On our first occasion, we departed our church in Brooklyn, NY around midnight and we arrived in Buffalo, NY about 6:30a.m and we hit the ground registering people to vote. We succeeded in helping to give Arthur Eve the measure of votes he needed to win the Democratic primary. The second time we came, he simply added to the total number we had previously counted. Plus we took our choir, in addition to doing the political work we also provided the religious fervor. We were so committed to the campaign of Arthur Eve, that I spent a week in his home. I lived with his family, wife and two children. Each morning we would arise and start campaigning or strategizing or meeting with potential supporters. We walked the streets together, we visited crowded hangouts, bars, saloons, pool rooms, restaurants, etc.
On the night of the election we waited in the hotel as the votes came in. At first, Arthur Eve was way behind, strikingly similar to President Biden’s situation. I remember staying up at night watching the election results of the presidential race and it seemed at first that President Biden was going down in defeat. Mr. Biden sensing that the people might become disillusioned, and turn off their televisions, he held a press conference to encourage people not to give up. The states that were democratically learning had not been counted. Similarly, the same thing happened in Buffalo. It seemed that the election was so far in the favor for Art’s opponent that defeat was certain.
Then suddenly Art says, “We’ve got to get to the headquarters to tell the people don’t leave. Our districts have not yet been counted.” The campaign workers and supporters were watching the results from the special campaign headquarters. We jumped in the car and rushed over to where they were assembled. Arthur Eve spoke to the crowd and told them, “Don’t go anywhere, stay where you are. And he named the districts that had not been counted.” And he said, “these districts are our districts and have not been counted yet. Let us wait.” When the final count came in he was right, he won the Democratic primary.
I wish we could end the story on that happy victorious note. However, the racism in Buffalo that denied him the general election is the same climate today. The racism in Buffalo and in other places that bring about the massacres.
For a while, we basked in celebrating our victory. We drove to the communities, especially white communities. We graciously thanked the people for voting for Arthur Eve. Arthur had begun to act as if he were the mayor. He talked about his plans and he was even invited to the White House by Jimmy Carter. It was a celebration throughout Buffalo, then came the general election and those white folks in Buffalo voted to reelect Mayor Henry Smith who was a democrat and Arthur Eve had defeated him in the Democratic primary. Buffalo has been a democratic city for as long as anybody could remember. Mayor Smith decided he would run as an independent, rather than concede the victory to Arthur Eve. He ran and he won.
Arthur Eve and all of us. But especially Arthur Eve was stunned. I don’t think that he ever got over it. He was a different man thereafter. His son and daughter who were little children when I stayed at the home are now successful in their careers. Now in Buffalo there is a Black mayor, Byron Brown. We see the ambiguities and complexities of our existence in the United States. On the one hand, we experience racism and all of its hideous manifestations and then we see what we call progress. The racism that denied a worthy Black man the mayoral seat in time brought to the mayoral seat a black man. Yet, in the city of a Black mayor and powerful Black people cannot stop a gunman from murdering 10 people.
I will never forget Arthur Eve and the time we spent campaigning together. At the same time Percy Sutton was running in New York for Mayor, so we divided up our time, our energy, our resources between Buffalo and NY. Today we have a Black mayor in New York, Mayor Eric Adams, who by the way I influenced his career by encouraging him to join the police force and mentoring him along the way. And again, in Buffalo New York we have a Black Mayor.
To be continued…