Zeneta Everhart, mom of Buffalo shooting victim, tells Congress violence, racism embodies America

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The mother of a man who was among those shot during last month’s mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store offered powerful testimony before Congress on Wednesday about how “America is inherently violent” and admonished lawmakers opposing stricter gun laws after a spate of shootings across the country .

Zeneta Everhart, the mother of 21-year-old Zaire Goodman, who was wounded but survived the racially motivated attack on the Tops supermarket on May 14, tested before the House Oversight Committee about how the massacre in Buffalo and recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Tex., and Tulsa reflected what the United States has been in terms of gun violence. She spoke of her son’s wounds and invited lawmakers to come to her home to see the damage up close if they would not act on gun laws.

“To the lawmakers who feel that we do not need stricter gun laws, let me paint a picture for you: My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back and another on his left leg caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15,” said Everhart, who paused in describing her son’s injuries. “As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now, I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children.”

She added, “This should not be your story or mine’s.”

Everhart admonished lawmakers who opposed common-sense gun laws because of their personal feelings or beliefs.

“As an elected official, it is your duty to draft legislation that protects Zaire and all of the children and citizens in this country,” she said. “You are elected because you had been chosen and are trusted to protect us. But let me say to you here today, I do not feel protected.”

Everhart, who is Black, also tested that racism and violence were tied together — “My ancestors brought to America through the slave trade were the first currency of America” — and told lawmakers that “America is inherently violent.”

“This is who we are as a nation,” testified Everhart, the director of diversity and inclusion for New York state Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy (D). “I continuously hear after every mass shooting that this is not who we are as Americans and as a nation. Hear me clearly: This is exactly who we are.”

Everhart is among the group of survivors and family members of victims from the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde testifying Wednesday on gun violence in America. The parents of a 10-year-old student killed at Robb Elementary School demanded that lawmakers ban military-style assault rifles like the one used in Uvalde, while 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo described in a prerecorded video how she smeared her best friend’s blood over herself and played dead as a gunman went on a rampage inside her classroom last month.

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Senators are calling for patience amid talks on a legislative package that could include the first significant federal gun restrictions in three decades, along with provisions dealing with school security and mental health. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) said his chamber would vote on it “in the near future,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted that it was “way too soon” to predict how many Republicans might ultimately come along. The top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), was optimistic Tuesday after briefing President Biden on the talks.

“Every day we get closer to an agreement, not further away,” Murphy said.

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The national debate over stricter gun laws continues days after Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old charged in connection with the Buffalo killings, was indicted on 25 counts, including domestic terrorism and murder as a hate crime. Authorities say the alleged white supremacist targeted the Tops supermarket in the largely Black neighborhood because of the hate he harbored for minorities, fueled by an obsession with conspiracy theories that proliferate on the internet.

Gendron, who police say traveled three hours from his home in Conklin, NY, to target Black people with his Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, is believed to have posted a screed online that revealed a paranoid obsession with a racist conspiracy theory claiming White Americans are intentionally being replaced by non-White immigrants.

If convicted of domestic terrorism motivated by hate, Gendron would face an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. Gendron has pleaded not guilty.

Goodman, then 20, was working at Tops when Gendron killed 10 people at the store last month, Everhart told CNN. His mother said her son called her from the parking lot and told her he had been shot while assisting a woman with her groceries.

During her nearly nine-minute testimony Wednesday, Everhart reminded lawmakers how Gendron was given a shotgun as a gift when he turned 16.

“The 18-year-old terrorist who stormed into my community armed with an AR-15, killing 10 people and injuring three others, received a shotgun from his parents for his 16th birthday. For Zaire’s 16th birthday, I bought him a few video games, some headphones, a pizza and a cake,” she said. “We are not the same.”

Everhart thanked the many people who’ve sent her son and their family support almost one month after the mass shooting. But she emphasized that thoughts and prayers could only go so far without action from lawmakers.

“I also say to you today, with a heart full from the outpouring of love that you all so freely gave us, your thoughts and prayers are not enough,” she said. “We need you to stand with us in the days, weeks, months and years to come, and be ready to go to work and help us to create the change this country so desperately needs.”

Everhart argued that part of the change would need to be done in the classroom setting, and called for African American history to be included as part of the curriculum in the US education system.

“We cannot continue to whitewash education and create generations of children to believe that one race of people are better than the other,” she said. “Our differences should make us curious, not angry.”

Everhart’s testimony appeared to Irk Republicans on the House Oversight panel when she began to discuss her belief that America was created on the shoulders of hate and white supremacy that continues to target the Black community.

As Everhart discussed education and the need to teach Black history, which Republicans have framed as “critical race theory” — an academic construct looking at the consequences of systemic racism that is not taught in K-12 classrooms — Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) shifted back in his chair before rolling his eyes. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) mouthed, “Oh my God.”

Toward the end of her testimony, Everhart quoted author Charles M. Blow from his 2021 book, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto.” Everhart tested that the point was “not to impose a new racial hierarchy but to remove an existing one.”

“After centuries of waiting for White majorities to overturn white supremacy, because it is, to me, that it has fallen to Black people to do it themselves,” Everhart said at the end of her testimony. “And I stand at the ready.”

She then gave a blessed birthday wish to her son, who recently turned 21.

“Zaire, this is for you, kid,” Everhart said. “Happy birthday.”

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