Gregory Kane: Being racist is not a capital crime 

In the final moments of his life, Omar Thornton managed to grievously insult my mother. So did his girlfriend, Kristi Hannah.

Last week Thornton walked into Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Conn., and gunned down 10 people. Eight of them died. Thornton made a 911 call to police before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.

The reason for his massacre, Thornton told the 911 dispatcher, was racism.

"You probably want to know why I shot this place up," Thornton told the dispatcher. "This place here is a racist place. They treat me bad over here, and they treat all the other black employees bad over here too, so I just take it into my own hands and I handled the problem. I wish I could have got more of the people."

Thornton also made calls to family members. His uncle, Will Holiday, said in a story that Thornton told him, "I killed the five racists that was there bothering me." Hannah, in a New York Daily News story, said, "There is only so much one man could take. They pushed and they pushed and they pushed until he finally just snapped. That's what you hear in his 911 call. He couldn't take it anymore."

Reporters for the Daily News also quoted a "best friend" of Thornton's who didn't want to be named.

"No one should have to endure what that company put him through," the best friend said, according to the Daily News. "Stuff on walls. Racist comments. I saw it with my own eyes."

For Hannah and the "best friend," I have only one observation: Well, cry me a river.

There is no capital punishment for being a racist in this country. We just don't operate that way. Thornton had a wealth of options and a body of civil rights laws available to him. He could have used them to address his grievances. But did he document as many of the racist incidents as he could have? Did he take those cell phone pictures of nooses and menacing racist graffiti Hannah talked about and send them to Connecticut's human rights commission? News reports say that nowhere is there any documentation of Thornton's complaints of racism.

No, instead of employing the legal tools available to him, Thornton snapped and killed eight people. News stories report that Thornton was 34 years old, which means he was born somewhere around 1975 or 1976.

My mother was born in 1922, an era known for white racism that was particularly virulent and deadly. In 1919, three short years before my mother's birth, there was a string of riots and lynchings -- with some black men being burned alive -- that made that particular year one of the worst ever for black Americans. (It was no day at the beach for many white Americans either.)

Thornton made $60,000 a year for Hartford Distributors, a salary my mother never saw in her working life. For her first job she wanted to be a receptionist at a bakery in West Baltimore, but that cushy job was reserved for whites only. Instead, she had to sweat in one of the low-wage jobs near the ovens, the only ones open to blacks.

My mother -- and every black man and woman of her generation -- had to face racism that Thornton never could have imagined. But they never cracked and they never snapped. They never saw picking up a gun and shooting white people as the solution to the problem. For Thornton to do so -- using racism as a justification -- insults the memory of every one of them.

About The Author

Gregory Kane


Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is an award-winning journalist who lives in Baltimore.

Pin It

More by Gregory Kane

Latest in Guest Columns

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation