Rally calls for love, unity after shootings
JAMESTOWN — Just 10 days apart, two mass shootings in the United States claimed the lives of nearly 30 people.
Amid the senseless violence, area faith leaders organized a “Love Thy Neighbor” rally Friday at the Jamestown Municipal Building. In addition to church leaders, local officials spoke to a crowd of about five dozen, a gathering brought indoors due to the threat of inclement weather.
The rally originally had been organized in response to the May 14 mass shooting at a Tops Markets grocery store in Buffalo. A white gunman opened fire on afternoon shoppers, killing 10 people and wounding three others. The incident was racially motivated, based on information the shooter — who drove hours to commit the mass murder — posted online.
But just 10 days later, another 18-year-old killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, the deadliest school shooting in a decade.
Among those who spoke at Friday’s noon rally at city hall were Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel, Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and Sheriff James Quattrone.
Sundquist railed against the racism and white supremacy that fueled the Buffalo attack and expressed exasperation over the back-to-back mass shootings.
“The past two weeks have just been so incredibly difficult as an American,” he said. “We’re here today to stand united with one another, but really to support each other through this difficult time. After the horrific mass shooting in Buffalo last weekend I saw something unthinkable, another mass shooting — at a school in Texas.”
Despite the “evil” behind the attacks, Sundquist said it was heartening to see the outpouring of support that has funneled to the Buffalo community as well as the response locally.
“It’s been difficult to process the evil that caused these acts, but it’s always reassuring to see the vast majority of us, especially in this community, have good in our hearts,” he said. “The hatred that was displayed in Buffalo is abhorrent, and we must call out racism and white supremacy that motivated this act.”
Wendel said he just recently picked up his wife in Binghamton, and the two were driving home to Chautauqua County when he realized they were taking the same route the Buffalo shooter took before carrying out his attack. The county executive could not fathom that someone would drive three hours and then follow through with a racially motivate mass shooting.
“How can someone ride that far with that much hatred in his head? It’s mind boggling,” Wendel said. “Is there an answer? Is there a solution?”
Formerly a teacher, Wendel expressed both sorrow and support for those who lost loved ones in the Texas shooting. His message Friday called for coming together.
“If there’s one thing that I would stress for everybody is to take time and know your neighbor,” he said.
Goodell, speaking somberly, noted the innocence of those shot and killed in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
“They didn’t do anything against that person,” Goodell said of the shoppers killed in the Buffalo grocery store. “That person was motivated by hatred. You wonder if someone with love had entered his life earlier whether the outcome would have been different.
“Several days later, a young man goes to an elementary school, shoots the teachers and students. … They were just learning how to read and write.”
Quattrone said he was at a loss regarding the shootings.
“I’ve been asked many times how can we stop this violence? How can we stop these mass murderers?” the sheriff said. “I don’t have an answer. I heard, my friend Sheriff Garcia say, it’s pure evil and I can’t disagree.”
The sheriff stressed a need for “love” among neighbors, alluding to the title of Friday’s rally. “We need love. We need to love our neighbor, but who’s our neighbor? Each one of you out here is my neighbor, and we often forget that.”
Pastor Leecroft Clarke, a vocal supporter of police, thanked Quattrone and Jamestown Police Chief Timothy Jackson for fostering goodwill between officers and the community. That goodwill is important in a community, he said, noting what has transpired in the country following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 that sparked protests across the country.
Clarke, too, called for unity in the aftermath of the shootings, quoting scripture often.
Amy Rohler, executive director of the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, closed the rally with a prayer.