Voices: The problem with Biden’s speech about the Buffalo shooter

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People embrace outside the scene of the Buffalo shooting  (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
People embrace outside the scene of the Buffalo shooting (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

I don’t want to unite with people that want me dead.

On Saturday, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, draped in body armor and carrying an assault rifle with a slur painted on it, opened fire on shoppers and workers at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo. As Gendron acknowledged in a manifesto posted online, he purposely targeted the store because it was in a predominantly Black neighborhood. He wanted to murder Black people. He drove hours to murder Black people. And we have since learned that Gendron reportedly had every intention to continue murdering more Black people that day.

With that in mind, responding to a racist massacre with a call for unity not only misses the mark, but is a waste of the power of the presidency. Yet on Sunday, President Biden made such a call during remarks made at an annual law enforcement ceremony in the US Capitol.

“We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” Biden said at the 41st annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service honoring fallen law enforcement officers.

“No one understands this more than the people sitting in front of me,” he added.

Biden also noted that he along with First Lady Jill Biden are both praying for those who were shot “by a lone gunman, armed with weapons of war and hate-filled soul.”

The White House said the Bidens will travel to Buffalo on Tuesday to grieve with the community. One hopes the president arrives with a stronger message. Biden might have been correct when he declared that “our hearts are heavy once again, but the resolve must never, ever waver,” and no doubt he was well-intentioned, but his choice of words reflect a lingering inability for him and much of the rest of the nation to confront the real problems. We can pray our president becomes more forceful in any subsequent remarks, but that requires a change of perspective.

For starters, with all due respect to the departed, law enforcement collectively has its own issues with white supremacy and the unjust killing of Black people in America — so Biden offering his remarks on a targeted killing of Black people to a room full of cops left somewhat of a bad taste in the mouth. To say they understand best how vital it is to combat racism almost feels like trolling.

I acknowledge and appreciate that Biden has referred to white supremacy as domestic terrorism while in office, but as president, he should try more forcefully to steer the nation into a conversation of how prevalent it is throughout American society with urgency.

Gendron is a teenager who went out of his way to kill older Black people. They were beautiful, kind, loving elder Black folks who were still active in their communities — but they were barely even people to Gendron. That is why everyone, including our president, should fixate on the issue of white supremacy. The only way to defeat white supremacy is to call it by its name, and if you are president of the United States, then it is incumbent upon you to use the powers of the federal government to beat it.

I understand Biden longs for a more united America where Democrats and Republicans get along, but that version of America only existed for Americans like Biden. Meanwhile, the rest of us — Black Americans across the country — have had to live in this racist and violent reality. There has been much talk of the great replacement theory and other conspiracy theories abounding among the far-right. The truth is, however, that racism has always been here. No new theory is to blame for this.

Biden’s predecessor is a racist avatar for a political movement that is rooted in racism. It is also — thanks to him, Fox News and other conservative media, and a Congress that won’t do anything to curb gun violence — more violent than ever.

It’s certainly new for young men like Gendron to livestream their racist massacres, but he comes from a long line of American bigots from the white supremacist rot that remains in our country.

In a tweet, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney wrote: “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

This is rich coming from someone that benefited from her father being part of the Bush political dynasty, but it’s nonetheless a more forceful explanation of the problem than offered by Democrats like Biden or former vice-presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine.

I don’t expect Biden to say everything I want. But if he was able to refer to white supremacy as domestic terrorism one year ago, he can do it now in the event of a domestic terrorist attack led by a white supremacist. And at the very least, he can spare us all the calls for unity at a time when Americans are being hunted by racist. You can’t unite with those people. You can only beat them and remove the threat from society.

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