The white supremacist who killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday, after earlier being hustled out of a courtroom briefly as a man rushed at him.

Payton Gendron’s sentencing in the attack, which was fuelled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, resumed shortly after the disruption, which happened as Barbara Massey Mapps excoriated him for killing her 72-year-old sister, Katherine Massey.

As Mapps shouted and pointed at Gendron, a person in the courtroom took a few steps toward him before getting held back. 

“You don’t know what we’re going through,” a man shouted as he was led away by court officers. For several minutes thereafter, family members hugged and calmed each other.

Judge Susan Eagan ordered Gendron back in and let the proceeding resume after about 10 minutes, admonishing everyone to “conduct ourselves appropriately.”

“I understand that emotion, and I understand the anger, but we cannot have that in the courtroom,” she said.

A young man in glasses in prison garb is shown standing.
Payton Gendron listens as he is sentenced on Wednesday. Gendron, a white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison after listening to relatives of his victims express the pain and rage caused by his racist attack. (The Associated Press)

Gendron pleaded guilty in November to charges including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate. The terrorism charge carries an automatic life sentence.

Eagan called it a moment of “reckoning for our nation.”

“The ugly truth is that our nation was founded and built in part on white supremacy,” she said, citing the treatment of Indigenous communities, Jim Crow laws and redlining real estate practices in communities of colour.

But, Eagan said, white supremacy was “not inevitable or unstoppable.”

“We must make the outpouring of love and compassion that followed this heinous act an everyday practice,” she said.

Store employee ‘haunted’ by trauma

The sentencing was a chance for loved ones of the dead, as well as people wounded in the attack last spring, to pour out their loss, anguish and ire.

Some, like Massey Mapps, angrily condemned Gendron; others quoted from the Bible or said they were praying for him. Several condemned him for his deliberate attack on a Black community far from his nearly all-white hometown.

“You’ve been brainwashed,” Wayne Jones Sr., the only child of victim Celestine Chaney, said as sobs rose from the audience. “You don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet, and it was a big mistake.”

“I hope you find it in your heart to apologize to these people, man. You did wrong for no reason,” Jones said.

A painting titled ‘Hope’ by Senia Che is shown on July 14, 2022, when Tops Friendly Market reopened. (Derek Gee/The Buffalo News/The Associated Press)

Christopher Braden, a Tops Friendly Market employee who was shot in the leg, spoke of seeing the victims where they lay as he was carried out of the store.

“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” he said.

Gendron, now 19, wore bullet-resistant armour and a helmet equipped with a livestreaming camera as he carried out the May 14 attack. He killed his victims with a semiautomatic rifle, purchased legally but then modified so he could load it with high-capacity ammunition magazines that are illegal in New York.

There were only three survivors after he shot 13 people, specifically seeking out Black shoppers and workers.

Federal case still looms

The victims at the Tops market included a church deacon, the grocery store’s guard, a neighbourhood activist, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.

In documents posted online, Gendron said he hoped the attack would help preserve white power in the U.S. He wrote that he picked the Tops grocery store, about a three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, N.Y., because it was in a predominantly Black neighbourhood.

A memorial for the shooting victims is shown outside Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo on July 14, 2022. (Joshua Bessex/The Associated Press)

Given the meticulous planning, Eagan denied Gendron youthful offender status, which might have given him a chance to re-enter society.

“There was nothing hasty or thoughtless about your conduct. There are no mitigating factors to be considered,” Eagan said.

While a life prison sentence is guaranteed for Gendron, he also faces separate federal charges that could carry a death sentence if the U.S. Justice Department chooses to seek it.

The mass shooting in Buffalo, and another less than two weeks later that killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, amplified calls for stronger gun controls, including from victims’ relatives who travelled to Washington, D.C., to testify before lawmakers.

New York legislators quickly passed a law banning semiautomatic rifle sales to most people under age 21. The state also banned sales of some types of body armour.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed a compromise gun violence bill in June intended to toughen background checks, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws making it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous. It was the most significant federal gun control legislation in several years.

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