Friday, February 8, 2008

Makers vs. Takers: A Firebell in the Night? (William N. Grigg)

"Put yourself in their shoes."

Many times, in order to understand violent events, we must use empathy to try to figure out why people resort to such measures. One example would be the events of 9/11. Why did the terrorists attack the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Was it because we are rich and free? If we listen to the terrorists, it's clear that the insane foreign policy of the Neocons contributed greatly to the attacks; the military has bases on Muslim holy land, occupies entire countries, and the government provides massive funding to their chief enemy, Israel. Obviously, this does not excuse the mass murder of thousands of innocent people in retaliation, but it does explain their hatred and a strong enough desire for revenge to be willing to die for their cause.

Another example is the Virginia Tech shooting of last year, where the shooter was continuously bullied in high school. Based on his videos and testimony of those who knew him, this contributed greatly to his violent murder spree. Again, this does not excuse his actions (murder can never be excused), but does show how bullying can push someone over the edge.

William N. Grigg uses empathy to try to explain why Charles "Cookie" Thornton went to a city council meeting one day and murdered five members. The incident is baffling, unless you hear the story behind the shooter. Again, I want to emphasize that this does NOT excuse his acts of murder; it merely shows what can happen when someone is pushed too far:

“The only way I can put it in context,” Gerald Thornton told CNN, “is that my brother went to war tonight with the people that were of the government that was putting torment and strife into his life.”

Gerald's brother Charles “Cookie” Thornton shot seven people at a City Council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri, murdering five of them before being shot and killed by police. The murder victims included two police officers, two city council members, and the Public Works Director. The wounded include town Mayor Mike Swoboda.

About seven years ago, Charles Thornton, a contractor who ran a small asphalt and demolition business, became engaged in a legal and political struggle with the city government, which he believed was acting out of a “plantation mentality.” During that period, “Cookie”'s business received around 150 tickets for parking commercial vehicles in a residential neighborhood; in the aggregate, the fines amounted to about $30,000.

Thornton apparently believed that his business was being strangled by degrees, and that race might have been a factor (Thornton was black). He became a frequent and unpleasant presence at City Council meetings, heckling the Mayor and councilmen persistently and displaying occasional flashes of creativity.

For instance: After being evicted from one meeting for telling Mayor Swoboda that he displayed “jackass-like qualities” and using various epithets (including “idiot” and stronger pejoratives) referring to Council members, Thornton showed up at a subsequent meeting with a sign-off sheet containing the objectionable terms and asking the Mayor and Council to “Cross a line through the word or words from the Holy Bible and Webster's Dictionary which you believe is not guaranteed by the Constitution.... If you choose not to respond, this will be understood as my right to use freely these words in my presentations.”

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