Shooting Reactions Reveal Racial Divide

Adam Jadhav, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 9, 2008

With so many people asking why, a brother of gunman Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton provided answers Friday that prompted fresh anger over the shooting rampage at a Kirkwood City Council meeting Thursday.

Gerald Thornton told reporters in front of Kirkwood’s City Hall that his brother had had enough of his fight with the city. Thornton pointedly refused to judge his brother’s action.

“He himself tried what he considered all the avenues he had available,” Gerald Thornton said. “For him to build up the need to go and do what he did, it had to be on the same level as a person that would declare war.”

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At a neighborhood meeting in the mostly black Meacham Park neighborhood, where Thornton lived, people cried, prayed and spoke of a racial divide. Some spoke sympathetically of Thornton and his rage over repeated parking and permit citations. One man called him a “hero.”

Many say they are sickened by Thornton’s brand of vigilantism. But others say they’re left outside the mainstream and oppressed by unfair rules. Those people mourned Thornton and directed their anger back at Kirkwood officials.

“There are rules and we make them and enforce them,” said Collinsville Mayor Stan Schaeffer, a friend of Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda, critically injured in the shootings. “On the other hand, emotions run high when your property and your rights are perceived to be violated.

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Cable television on Friday broadcast Gerald Thornton’s statements across the country: “This was an act of war by my brother. He had people that he was in battle with.”

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Gerald Thornton has his own history of violence. He spent more than five years in prison for fatally stabbing a man in 1996.

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In Kirkwood, PJ’s Tavern co-owner Bill Friedrichs said: “If they think that the only way to deal with these issues is through these means, there’s a tremendous lack of understanding in that community, in Meacham Park.”

In the neighborhood, between Interstate 44 and railroad tracks, about 100 people—a third of them white—held a two-hour meeting Friday afternoon. The frustration was clear.

“To me, Charles Thornton is a hero,” said Ben Gordon of Webster Groves. “He opened a business. He went to court, but the system failed him.  .&nbsp. . We are sorry, we grieve, but (Kirkwood officials) share in this responsibility.”

Harry Jones, an elder at Men and Women of Faith Ministries, said a gulf exists between blacks and whites in Kirkwood, one that will take years to close.

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