Feb 7, 2013 - Issue 503

The Gun Debate:
Remembering Cookie Thornton

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On February 7, 2008 the unthinkable happened. Breaking news brought one of the most deadly shootings the St. Louis metropolitan area into our living rooms. Yet only five years later, such a rampage is sadly becoming commonplace.
This one was personal. I  knew Charles Thornton, affectionately known as Cookie, and his case still intrigues me. I have written about Kirkwood, MO and its black stepchild, Meacham Park, over the last twenty years. In fact, there’s a chapter in my book titled “What’s the Price of Selling Out Meacham Park.”  So far, the price for the St. Louis suburb has been great.
The 5th anniversary of  the Kirkwood, MO  tragedy comes in the midst of a national heated debate about gun control. Cookie did not have a semi-automatic weapon or the carnage would have been far greater. He came to the scene with one revolver and took the revolver of the police officer he killed outside City Hall.

Before the bullets stopped flying, six people lay dead and two injured. Cookie Thornton had killed two police officers, the public works director, two council members and wounded the mayor and a reporter. (The mayor died several months later of complications due to his injuries.)  Cookie was stopped by the lethal bullets of police. And I have never seen the kind of vitriol aimed at white shooters as I did with Cookie - some of the hateful remarks aimed at me because of my stance on the situation.
Most of the fingers behind the mass killings are those of troubled white men. If ever there should be a posterman for these kind of shootings, it should be a black man. From early in his life, a black male child is targeted with harsher suspensions in school, then on to racial profiling in the community and all that’s in between. On a daily basis his nose is rubbed into racial discrimination and degradation.
Cookie Thorton was once a high school star athlete, a college graduate, a man with dreams for himself and his family. He was a happy-go-lucky person with an infectious smile. If Kirkwood and the rest of the nation would take a look at how that Cookie Thorton became the Cookie Thornton on February 7, 2008, we may get closer to the root of the problem and to see where the interventions could’ve taken place.
Congress is currently reviewing gun control laws. I believe there are a few laws that could make a difference in the frequency and lethal intensity of these kinds of mass killings. This country is #1 in gun ownership in the whole wide world with over a quarter of a billion guns in the hands of everyday citizens. This means there’s already a bunch of (legal) guns in the hands of crazed or angry people.
Recently Chris Kyle was shot and killed. The name is unfamiliar to most but Kyle was a former Navy Seal and once called America’s deadliest sniper. He could shoot a target with accuracy from 21 football fields away. Since his time from the military, Kyle had been working with troubled vets, sometimes taking them to the shooting range for therapy. (This seems counterintutive but I digress.) While at the range, Eddie Ray Routh turned his semiautomatic on Kyle and another man, killing them instantly.

I offer the above incident to negate the ridiculous assertion of Wayne LaPierre of the National Rife Association. He claims the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Even the world’s greatest markman didn’t see the end coming.
Legislation rarely deals with changing the hearts and minds of a nation. Legislation cannot deal with anger, despair or alientation that drives people to pick up a gun, a knife or anything else they can get their hands on when they feel threatened or disrespected.
Each one of us is responsible for the kind of neighborhood, city and country we live in. It is not solely the obiligation of government, police and policymakers. It’s certainly can’t be left up to lobbyists who have a stake in keeping the profits rolling in for the gun manufacturers.
While we figure it out, more Cookie Thorntons, Adam Lanzas and Jared Loughners are being created, making our churches, shopping malls, schools, movie theaters and other public spaces less safe and our response to tragedies less humane.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.