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The Buffalo shooting exposes the city's economic disparities

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to hear more about Buffalo, N.Y., where the mass shooting earlier this month took place. It is one of the most segregated cities in America. The East Side, where the supermarket targeted by the shooter is located, is one of the poorer parts of town, and it's the Black part of town. NPR's Alana Wise reports that the killings expose the city's barely concealed economic disparities.

ALANA WISE, BYLINE: Tops, the grocery store the shooter targeted, is one of the only places for East Side families to shop for food and essentials.

WHITNEY WALKER: I want to tell you the truth about my home, the place that is so dear to my heart.

WISE: Whitney Walker is northeast regional director of Faith in Action, an interfaith group.

WALKER: And we've gone from the sixth to now being the fifth most segregated city in the nation.

WISE: The statistics Walker cites are backed by years of research. The disparities extend to schools, transportation, employment. Her words come to life as you walk the streets of East Buffalo, on Jefferson Ave., where police tape still signals the crime scene.

WALKER: When our elected officials want to express their surprise and their shock that a mass murderer came into our community, I can't be surprised.

WISE: Residents say opportunity is hard to come by, and Tops was never a great grocery store. They describe higher prices than elsewhere in the city and shoddy products that would never be tolerated in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods.

ERICA HUFFNAGLE: It's like a big 7-Eleven, basically.

WISE: Erica Huffnagle says despite Tops' vow to reopen, she doesn't think the store or other corporations actually want to be in Black neighborhoods.

HUFFNAGLE: You know, I kept saying, food desert, food desert. And someone had to remind me, like, desert is a naturally occurring thing. Like, what's going on in your neighborhood is created. And it's true. They don't come here because they don't want to, and they don't value the business.

WISE: Neighborhood residents lobbied hard in the early 2000s to get a grocery store in the area. The Tops opened here in 2003. Huffnagle lives just over a mile away, walking distance.

HUFFNAGLE: I'm trying not to get emotional because Saturday is when I do my shopping.

JONATHAN FREIRICH: What do I have to say about this except showing up?

WISE: Rabbi Jonathan Freirich says the conditions in this neighborhood, where he doesn't live, are a tragedy, not just for Black people and not just for Buffalo.

FREIRICH: It is a national problem taking place here in Buffalo, and I'm a white guy.

WISE: Freirich points to the conditions at Tops prior to the shooting and questions why officials haven't gotten involved before to improve the city's predominantly Black neighborhood.

FREIRICH: Where is the investment in our community so that we have a supermarket? A supermarket - and it's not even a good supermarket.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Come on.

FREIRICH: This is not like, the top Tops in town. So let's invest.

WISE: He's calling others in the so-called city of good neighbors to live up to its moniker.

FREIRICH: So if you're a white person and you're asking, what can I do? Listen. Show up and be present. Be here for our people. We are in this together. This is a war.

WISE: And Freirich says this neighborhood is under attack. Alana Wise, NPR News, Buffalo.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY DEE SONG, "THINK TWICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.