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On 2nd anniversary of George Floyd's killing, Black Buffalo residents feel the weight

Kimberly Johnson, of Buffalo, places her hand on a photo of the late Hayward Patterson, at a makeshift memorial on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The memorial is across the street from the scene of the mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Saturday, May 14, in Buffalo, NY.
Kent Nishimura
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Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
Kimberly Johnson, of Buffalo, places her hand on a photo of the late Hayward Patterson, at a makeshift memorial on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The memorial is across the street from the scene of the mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Saturday, May 14, in Buffalo, NY.

Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd – a killing that sparked months of protests and impassioned vows from Democratic lawmakers to better protect Black Americans.

Two years later, though, little has changed to help improve America's relationship between citizens and the police, or the nation's fraught race relations.

Those shortcomings were highlighted this month when an 18-year-old man is accused of traveling hundreds of miles to carry out a racist massacre at a grocery store in Buffalo's predominantly Black East Side.

The man, who allegedly yelled racial epithets as he opened fire in the store and on its parking lot, killed 10 people and injured three others.

Police took him into custody unharmed.

"Fascinating how civil and calm the police are arresting the man who shot and killed almost a dozen people in cold blood," one Twitter user observed. "If they [showed] this level of respect to George Floyd for attempting to spend a fake $20 bill, he would be alive."

The Twitter user was referencing Floyd having used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes from a neighborhood convenience store.

Police were called and Floyd died in their custody when former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, causing the unarmed Black man's death.

The 18-year-old man who authorities say carried out the deadly Tops shooting – dressed in military tactical gear and armed with a high-powered Bushmaster XM-15 rifle – was taken into custody without any apparent injury sustained by his contact with arresting officers.

Some commenters noted the contrast of the shooter's arrest with the way police have often employed violent tactics when dealing with Black, unarmed citizens, like in Floyd's case.

One of the two acts of violence was perpetrated by the state. The other, some argue, was emboldened by those same powers.

"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. We all are sick and tired of being sick and tired," Buffalo resident Geo Hernandez said at a recent press conference held by the advocacy organization VOICE.

"This is embedded racism in our policies, in our practices, in how this city is governed and how our people are continued to be hunted."

A recent public opinion survey conducted by the Washington Post and Ipsos found that in June 2020, weeks after Floyd's murder, 54 percent of Black Americans said they expected police to improve the way they interacted with the Black community.

Today, just 19 percent of respondents say police actually did.

"Since the death of George Floyd, there have been ups and downs," said Tolu Odunsi, a lecturer of law at the University at Buffalo. "Immediately after the killing, we saw a lot of calls for justice, equality. We saw a lot of organizations state that they would put money towards justice and equality. But then there was kind of a lull."

Tolu Ondusi is a lecturer of law at the University at Buffalo.
/ Alana Wise/NPR
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Alana Wise/NPR
Tolu Ondusi is a lecturer of law at the University at Buffalo.

The same Washington Post Ipsos survey, conducted after the grocery store killing spree, revealed that 75 percent of Black Americans are worried that they or someone they love will be targeted for violence because of their race.

"I believe the thread between the two tragedies is the dehumanization of Black people in this country," Odunsi said.

"To be able to kneel on someone's neck for such an amount of time that it kills them, in your mind, you have had to dehumanize that person – in the same way to travel and shoot innocent Black people at a supermarket. Again, you have to have that element of thinking these people are less than human and deserve death."

For many residents of Buffalo, which is 47 percent white and 35 percent Black, Floyd's death and the alleged hate attack on the Tops grocery store are two sides of the same coin.

It is in Buffalo, after all, where protests in the wake of Floyd's killing made national headlines for police officers' response to peaceful demonstrators.

In perhaps the most notable instance, police shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground, leaving him limp on the sidewalk and bleeding from his ear.

The man sustained a brain injury and spent weeks in the hospital.

It is also just outside of Buffalo, a city that consistently ranks among the nation's most segregated, that correctional officer Gregory C. Foster II reportedly joked about the Tops shooting rampage, sharing on Facebook a meme that referenced "clean up" on multiple aisles.

Foster, who reports say earned some $185,482 in 2020 for his work at Attica Correctional Facility, was suspended for the incident.

"I think you have people who are openly radical, who are able to hide behind the cover of 'racism doesn't exist,'" Odunsi said.

"If we are not peeling back the layers, it gives people who are actual, bold, overt racists the ability to be more discrete and then carry out violent attacks like the one in Buffalo."

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit the scene of a shooting at a supermarket to pay respects and speak to families of the victims of Saturday's shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Andrew Harnik / AP
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AP
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit the scene of a shooting at a supermarket to pay respects and speak to families of the victims of Saturday's shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

President Biden, who ran on a platform of healing the cavernous divide of race and politics in America, has spoken to the existence of systemic racism within U.S. borders and vowed to address the disjointedness exacerbated by his predecessor.

But the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which Biden had endorsed, remains stalled in Congress.

And opinion polls say concerns over race relations, like those that authorities say motivated the Tops grocery shooter, remain high.

Biden, on the anniversary of Floyd's murder, is expected to sign an executive order on policing, applying to federal agencies, but not the local agencies with whom Americans are more likely to interact.

Family members of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black first responder who Louisville, Ky., police killed while executing a no-knock warrant in the early morning hours of March 13, 2020, have been invited to attend.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.