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Buffalo City Council President on Racist Mass Shooting: 'It's Hard to Talk About Jesus if You Don't Talk About Justice'

A mourner brings flowers to the perimeter of the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Monday, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Racism in America is back in the headlines after 10 African Americans were murdered in a hail of gunfire at the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York on Saturday. Three other people were wounded.

Authorities say the 18-year-old shooter was motivated by racism and intentionally set out to kill black people. Payton Gendron surrendered inside the supermarket and was arraigned on a murder charge over the weekend. He pleaded not guilty and was jailed under a suicide watch. 

There is new information that Gendron spent months planning the attack. ABC News reports it obtained a nearly 600-page online document, showing he allegedly visited the grocery store as far back as March and made detailed sketches of the interior. 

The suspect also reportedly planned more attacks and listed at least two other targets.

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As CBN News has reported, retired Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Salter, Jr., who was serving as a security officer for the grocery store, traded gunfire with the shooter and was killed. Gendron was allegedly wearing body armor during the attack. 

Authorities believe the suspect was radicalized by racist ideology on the internet.

On Monday, CBN News' Faith Nation spoke with Darius Pridgeon, bishop of the True Bethel Baptist Church and the president of the Buffalo City Council.

He told CBN News it's time for the church to have those "uncomfortable conversations" so believers as a whole can fight racism in this country. 

"We must be honest about the fact that there are still white supremacists who live in our land and that there are still people who do not like black people and would rather for them to die," Pridgeon said. "And if we don't have uncomfortable conversations even when there is not a mass shooting, we will never be able to stand against racism."

"And that to me is what we have to do, especially those who say we believe in Jesus Christ," the Buffalo City Council president noted. "I keep saying, it's hard to talk about Jesus if you don't talk about justice. And this is a time when we have to talk about justice."

Hate Fueled by 'Replacement' Theory 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining the shooting as a hate crime. So far, investigators are looking at Gendron's connection to what's known as the "great replacement" theory, which baselessly claims white people are being intentionally overrun by other races through immigration or higher birth rates.

That racist ideology is often interwoven with antisemitism, with Jews being falsely labeled as the culprits. During the 2017 racist "Unite the Right" march in Charlottesville, the white supremacists chanted "Jews will not replace us."

"You can't separate the racism and antisemitism," Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, told Religion News Service (RNS).

"There needs to be some conspiracy responsible for everything terrible that these white supremacists think is happening to this country as a result of Black and brown people, immigrants and refugees," said Spitalnick.

At its core, the "great replacement" theory holds that not only is immigration to the United States crowding out whites but that a framework of elites, including Jews, are intentionally encouraging that to happen, according to the RNS

Samuel Perry, professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and a leading expert on the ideology known as "white Christian nationalism", told the outlet the idea is not new and stretches all the way back to Nazi Germany. 

The idea, said Perry, is that white people aren't procreating enough and that it is "everybody's responsibility to outbreed the negative elements we don't want in our society."

"It's wrapped up in ethnocultural outsiders: immigrants, Jews, and Muslims. They are a threat to white hegemony," he said, explaining the distorted beliefs of white nationalists. 

Meanwhile, the president and first lady Jill Biden are visiting Buffalo on Tuesday, where their first stop will be a makeshift memorial outside the supermarket. They're also expected to meet privately with families of the victims, first responders, and local officials before the president delivers public remarks.

Biden is calling for stricter gun laws and urging Americans to reject racism and embrace the nation's diversity, the White House said.

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