Buffalo shooting suspect pleads not guilty to hate crime charges

US authorities say suspect charged with killing 10 Black people at a grocery shop was motivated by hate, white supremacy.

Authorities say Payton Gendron drove three hours to Buffalo and chose a shop in a predominantly Black area because he wanted to kill as many Black people as possible [File: Matt Rourke/AP Photo]

The man charged with killing 10 Black people in a racist mass shooting at a grocery shop in Buffalo, in the US state of New York, has pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges.

Suspected attacker Payton Gendron’s lawyer entered the plea on Monday in the Buffalo courtroom of US Magistrate Judge Kenneth Schroeder and said she hopes to resolve the case before a trial begins.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackles, the 19-year-old, who was indicted last week on 27 hate crimes and firearms charges, sat silently during the arraignment.

“We all know he’s guilty. We saw what he did,” Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was wounded in the May 14 shooting spree, said following Monday’s hearing. “The world saw what he did. He posted what he did.”

The deadly attack at Tops Friendly Supermarket in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo drew condemnation across the United States and spurred calls for action to tackle white supremacist violence.

The indictment alleges that Gendron, who livestreamed the mass shooting via a helmet camera, engaged in substantial planning and took aim at older people – specifically 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, 77-year-old Pearl Young, 72-year-old Katherine Massey, 67-year-old Heyward Patterson and 65-year-old Celestine Chaney.

Ten Black people were killed and three others injured in the attack before law enforcement officers arrested Gendron just outside the shop.

Authorities say Gendron drove three hours from Conklin, New York, and chose the shop in the predominantly Black area because he wanted to kill as many Black people as possible. They also said he had described his white supremacist beliefs in diary entries online.

The federal indictment includes 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill three people and another hate crime count alleging Gendron, clad in body armour and tactical gear, tried to kill other Black people in and around the shop.

It also includes 13 counts of using a firearm in a hate crime.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who halted federal executions last year, has not ruled out seeking the death penalty against Gendron. The Justice Department said a decision on whether to seek the death penalty would come later.

Gendron is also facing state prosecution on charges of hate-motivated “domestic terrorism”, murder and attempted murder as a hate crime. He has also pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Tops Friendly Market reopened on Friday, two months after the racist attack that has devastated the community.

“We will not let hate win. The reopening of the completely renovated Tops is a major step forward in our efforts to heal and build our community back stronger than ever,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown before the reopening.

The shop was opened in 2003 and was the only one in the area, which suffers from high levels of poverty and had spent years fighting for a grocery shop of its own.

When it closed in the aftermath of the shooting, some residents had to take the bus to other shops or rely on neighbourhood food programmes.

Still, the decision to reopen the shop, now intimately connected to memories of pain and heartbreak, was not an easy one. Some in the community wanted to see the site turned into a park or public space, while others said that reopening was an important part of moving forward.

“We must go on,” said Tops employee Rosalie Bishop, who has worked at the shop for 12 years. “The people will come back. They might not come today or tomorrow, but they will come back.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies