By Stacy M. Brown | NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
A federal grand jury today returned a 27-count indictment charging Payton Gendron, 19, of Conklin, New York, with 14 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Shepard-Byrd Act) and 13 firearms offenses in connection with the mass shooting at the Tops grocery store on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, New York.
The announcement was made by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Trini E. Ross for the Western District of New York, and Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen Belongia of the FBI Buffalo Field Office.
According to a news release issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice, the indictment alleges that on or about May 14, Gendron opened fire with a Bushmaster XM rifle and shot multiple individuals in and around the Tops grocery store, which resulted in the deaths of 10 Black people, as well as injury to three others.
The indictment charges that Gendron violated the Shepard-Byrd Act by willfully causing the death of the victims because of their actual and perceived race and color.
In total, the 27-count indictment charges Gendron with 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill three injured individuals, and one hate crimes count alleging that Gendron attempted to kill additional Black people in and around the Tops grocery store.
The indictment also charges Gendron with 13 counts of using, carrying, or discharging a firearm in relation to the hate crimes, and seeks forfeiture of items, including the weapon used in the shooting.
The indictment further includes special findings alleging, among other things, that Gendron committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to commit an act of terrorism.
“Today, a grand jury has indicted Payton Gendron with hate crime and firearms offenses following the horrific attack on the Black community of Buffalo that killed 10 people and injured three others on May 14, 2022,” said Attorney General Garland.
“The Justice Department fully recognizes the threat that white supremacist violence poses to the safety of the American people and American democracy. We will continue to be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes, to support the communities terrorized by them, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them.”
Gendron reportedly possessed a 180-page manifesto that revealed troubling perceptions the self-avowed white supremacist had.
He complained of the dwindling size of the white population and included his fears of ethnic and cultural replacement of white people.
Gendron described himself as a fascist, a white supremacist, and an anti-Semite.
His live-streamed shooting spree has left at least 10 dead and several more wounded. Unlike the multitude of unarmed Black people killed during encounters with law enforcement, the white racist is alive to plead not guilty in court.
“While past violent white supremacist attacks seem to have factored into this heinous act, we must acknowledge that extremist rhetoric espoused by some media and political leaders on the right promoting theories that vilify or dehumanize segments of our society like ‘the great replacement theory’ is a factor too,” wrote U.S. House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson in an earlier statement.
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell added that the organization condemns both the white supremacist terrorist attack targeting Black men and women in Buffalo and the racist rhetoric that has sparked such violence.
“The constant repetition of white supremacist conspiracy theories on social media and even mainstream media outlets has led to horrific violence in places as distant as Christchurch, El Paso, Oslo and Charleston,” Mitchell asserted.
“Those who promote racism, white supremacy, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry must be held accountable for the violence they inspire.”
Mitchell added that CAIR has often spoken out against those who promote the “great replacement” and other racist conspiracy theories.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told reporters that Gendron surveilled both the community and the grocery store as part of the planning of the attack.
Brown said the teen surveilled the area for several days and targeted a busy place in an area predominantly populated by Black people.
His manifesto noted that, “Zip code 14208 in Buffalo has the highest black percentage that is close enough to where I live.”
According to the U.S. Census, the zip code is 78 percent Black, and among the top 2 percent of zip codes nationwide with the highest percentage of Black population.
It has the highest percentage of Black population of any zip code in upstate New York.
“Well, this manifesto tells everything to us. And that is what’s so bone chilling about it is that there is the ability for people to write and subscribe to such philosophies filled with hate,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.
“The white supremacist acts of terrorism that are being fermented on social media and to know that what this one individual did has been shared with the rest of the world as well as the live-streaming of this military-style execution that occurred in the streets of my hometown.”
If convicted, the charges in the indictment carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty.
The Attorney General will decide whether to seek the death penalty later.
Should the Attorney General determine that the circumstances of the offense are such that a sentence of death is justified, the law requires that notice be filed with the court at a reasonable time before trial.
Gendron is currently in state custody pending state criminal charges.