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Biden calls for unity during his visit to Buffalo, which is shaken by mass shooting

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Buffalo, N.Y., the community is holding vigils to honor the 10 people killed in last Saturday's racist massacre. President Biden and the first lady traveled there yesterday to talk with the families of the victims.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Jill and I bring you this message from deep in our nation's soul. In America, evil will not win, I promise you. Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word.

FADEL: Earlier, I spoke with NPR's Cheryl Corley, who is following this story in Buffalo.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The president said he came to Buffalo to stand with the community and to grieve with the families of the victims. And he met with them privately before giving a public speech. And during that speech, he called out the names of the 10 people who died and the three who were wounded, offering some details about their lives. And that shooting occurred at the Tops grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. And the president called the white supremacy that the 18-year-old suspect espoused in his writings a poison.

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BIDEN: What happened here is simple and straightforward - terrorism - terrorism, domestic terrorism, violence inflicted in the service of hate and the vicious thirst for power.

CORLEY: And the president said - told Americans that they should reject what he said were lies told for profit and political gain.

FADEL: And how did the community respond to his visit, to his words?

CORLEY: Well, the reaction was pretty mixed. There were lots of people who lined up outside the community center where President Biden spoke. Sean Collier (ph) was one of them, a General Motors factory worker. He was glad the president came. He said the visit was part of the healing that Buffalo needs. And he appreciated Biden coming especially to speak with the victims' families.

SEAN COLLIER: Approaching their hurt and their pain and their anguish and then the community pain and anguish was the first step.

FADEL: Now, he didn't say very much about gun control, right?

CORLEY: Well, he made a passing reference to keeping military-style weapons off the streets. And he alluded to his 1994 crime bill that banned assault weapons, saying the country was able to do that in the past. Some said they didn't expect the president to talk about gun reforms because he doesn't have enough votes in Congress to make that happen. And others said it just wasn't the right time to talk about it.

Local activist Taniqua Simmons said the president needed to talk specifically, though, about what the government would do to combat hate crimes.

TANIQUA SIMMONS: I mean, how can we heal when we are being hunted? We are living in fear. I have anxiety leaving my house because I don't know what's going to happen to me.

FADEL: The 18 year old who walked into that supermarket and started shooting has already been charged. What happens next?

CORLEY: Well, he has a court date tomorrow morning. For now he faces a single count of first-degree murder. More charges from the county district attorney are expected. And investigators are going over a lengthy document that he posted online. And there is a federal investigation underway. So he may face federal hate crime charges.

FADEL: And before this grocery store opened in this area - the one where this attack happened - this mostly-Black neighborhood was a food desert, right? So the fact that it's closed is yet another blow. When will it reopen? What are residents doing in the meantime?

CORLEY: Well, there's no indication that it will reopen any time soon. And the store is offering a shuttle bus service to take people elsewhere.

FADEL: NPR's Cheryl Corley in Buffalo - thank you so much.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.