BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris and the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff were in Buffalo Saturday for the funeral of Buffalo supermarket shooting victim Ruth Whitfield.
Vice President Harris left Washington, D.C. from Joint Base Andrews for Buffalo at 8:45 a.m. She was joined by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Air Force Two.
Around 10:30 a.m., Harris and Emhoff arrived at Mt. Olive Baptist Church for the memorial service of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield.
Whitfield, the mother of former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield, was shopping at Tops after visiting her husband in the nursing home, her family has said.
“Our family has been ripped apart,” Garnell said two days after the shooting. “It’s been devastating. It’s like somebody tore our heart out.”
The vice president wasn’t expected to make any remarks at the service, but Rev. Al Sharpton called Harris to the pulpit to speak because of who she represents. As the first female, Black and Asian Vice President, he insisted on the nation’s second-highest official address to those in attendance.
“She said, well I’m coming, but I don’t want to say anything, because I don’t want it to be political, I just want to sit through the service,” Sharpton said. “But, I’m going to break protocol. I think that we should insist that we hear from the Vice President of the United States of America — the honorable Kamala Harris.”
In a moment of levity, Harris took to the pulpit and said “I’m not going to say anything to Reverend Sharpton right now,” Harris said in response to being called upon to speak.
“The pain that this family is feeling right now and the nine other families here in Buffalo, I cannot even begin to express our collective pain as a nation for what you are feeling in such an extreme way,” Harris said. “To not only lose someone that you love but through an act of extreme violence and hate. And I do believe that our nation right now is experiencing an epidemic of hate.”
Harris pointed to scripture when talking about the idea of strength and that a true measure of strength is “not based on who you beat down, it’s based on who you lift up.”
“It means then also in that strength understanding we will not allow small people to create fear in our communities,” the vice president said. “That we will not be afraid to stand up for what is right, to speak truth even when it may be difficult to hear and speak.”
Harris called on all “good people, God-loving people” to stand up against hate and come together and not allow hateful people to divide our communities.
“I’m here to say that we are all in this together. No one should ever be made to fight alone. We are stronger than those who try to hurt us,” Harris said.
“We are strong in our faith, we are strong in our belief about what is right and our determination to act. To ensure that we protect all those that deserve to be protected, that we see all those that deserve to be seen. That we hear the voices of the people and that we rise up in solidarity to speak out against this and to speak to our better angels.”
Her visit included a meeting with the victims’ families, listening to their concerns as well as going to the memorial at Tops on Jefferson. Mayor Byron Brown applauded both Vice President Harris and President Biden for visiting Buffalo, saying it means a lot to the families.
“The President being here and the Vice President being here shows a resolve for real action,” Mayor Brown continued.
Before leaving Western New York, the vice president called for stricter gun laws including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and age limits to purchase a firearm.
“It was designed for a specific purpose: to kill a lot of human beings quickly. An assault weapon is a weapon of war,” she said at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport before getting on Air Force Two.
Harris added that the United States is governed by rules to prevent harm and promote safety.
“We’ve had over 200 mass shootings in our country already and we are barely in June. We all have to agree that we have to do something and it’s in our power to do it. Congress has to act,” Harris said.
The funeral can be viewed in its entirety in the video player immediately above. Vice President Harris’ remarks can be seen below.
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Patrick Ryan is an award-winning reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.