Wednesday morning the nation woke up to wall-to-wall coverage of yet another mass shooting in America. This time it was a small town in Texas where 19 children and two teachers were lost in a senseless act of violence at the hands of an 18-year-old member of that same community who used an assault weapon to unleash his rampage.
This incident happened in the wake of a horrendous event in Buffalo just 10 days earlier.
As the leader of one of the largest anti-violence organizations in the country, I am outraged over these tragedies. We now know that the racist mass shooting on May 14 directly targeted the African American community of Buffalo, N.Y., continuing a long history of anti-Black violence in this country. But as this week's tragic event in Uvalde, Texas, reminds us, no community is immune to these acts of mass violence within our society, and they take an ever-increasing toll on our collective well-being regardless of the identities we hold.
I am angry because of the harm caused to the members of the Buffalo community. But I am also angry because I know that there will continue to be massacres of this kind, fueled by the white supremacist, hate-based rhetoric that has become all too common in our nation’s daily discourse. At this immense time of sorrow, I urge my fellow New Yorkers and others across this country to take this moment not only to mourn those lost but also to honor their lives by standing up against the racist fearmongers who continue to justify and incite violence.
We can only defeat this violence if we first acknowledge it for exactly what it is: the result of a long-term, organized, and concerted effort by white supremacist leaders and organizations to use fear to control our city halls and statehouses, our schools and community centers, and ultimately our society. And we must acknowledge that the interpersonal and state violence we are experiencing at a heightened rate are all part of these organized efforts.
The seeds of hate that have sown the violence against this Black community in Buffalo are the same seeds that have sown the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans violence and laws being passed in every corner of this nation; these are the same seeds that are challenging a woman’s right to choose and fueling the anti-Asian violence in our streets. We cannot allow the continuation of a narrative that the way of life of white people is threatened by the presence and humanity of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and all the others they hope to keep pushing to the margins.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project is the only organization in New York State dedicated to addressing and ending all forms of violence within and against the LGBTQ+ community. As the coordinating body of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs that does this work nationally, we understand all too well the impact of hate on our communities and the importance of targeted communities building collective support and solidarity.
For more than 20 years, we have tracked hate violence including the ever-rising national homicide rates of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. We continue to see rates of anti-LGBTQ+ violence increasing in our city along with other forms of hate and bias-related violence. In 2017, 325 hate crimes were reported to the New York Police Department. That number grew to 420 in 2019 and 565 in 2021. And we know these numbers are only a fraction of the hate violence experienced in New York City because of underreporting to the police and the narrow definition of hate crimes.
Along with our partner organizations, we have formed the NYC Against Hate Coalition, which brings together organizations across identities who stand together to end hate. NYC Against Hate is made up of LGBTQ+, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, and other organizations that have come together to create safety strategies for our communities that come directly from those who are targeted for violence. We focus on preventing violence through community building and education as opposed to policing and punishment. Together we can change the culture of hate in this country to one of respect that honors the humanity and dignity of each of us and that builds the systems of support needed to keep everyone safe.
But if we are serious about curbing and ending hate-based violence in this country, we need to act fast and decisively. We must realize that we are being out-organized and out-funded by white supremacists and nationalist hatemongers and right-wing loyalists. Over the last several decades, they have amassed an army of hate backed by hundreds of millions of dollars. We must get serious about spreading and funding our efforts. Our message must be louder, our voices more united. We call on everyone who is saddened and angered by this act of violence to call out and stand up against hate wherever you see it, get involved with community-based organizations in your area working on violence prevention, and support those doing this work on the ground. Our very lives depend on all of us being willing to take small and large steps every day to stand up for each other.
As I and my colleagues reflect on the Buffalo and Texas tragedies, we mourn the loss of all who were killed and hope for a full and speedy recovery of those injured in the horrific acts of hate. We know the news of these shootings is disturbing and can be triggering and frightening for many in our community. Incidents of hate violence are meant to terrorize our communities, but they will not succeed. We will stand up for one another, knowing we are stronger together.
Beverly Tillery is the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, an organization that works to address and end all forms of violence through organizing and education and supports survivors through counseling and advocacy. She is an experienced thought leader, advocate, and national organizer with nearly three decades of experience working in social justice movements.
AVP runs a 24-hour bilingual (English/Spanish) hotline for LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of violence. If you want to safely report an incident of violence or need support, call or text (212) 714-1141. We are here for you, whenever and wherever.