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On the 10th Anniversary of the Kirkwood Tragedy

All we want is justice

The Way I See It, St. Louis American Newspaper

Jamala Rogers (February 11, 2008)


Cookie Thornton protests in Kirkwood, MO.

When breaking news interrupted the regular TV programming, it was mumbling until I heard “shooting at Kirkwood zoning and planning meeting.”

I screamed at the television, “Nooooo, Cookie!”

I knew who the shooter right then was but it was a while before news reporters identified Charles “Cookie” Thornton as the alleged gunman that left five dead and 2 injured, Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda seriously. Thornton was shot dead by police.

This is a tragedy of epic proportions, one in which our humanity shouts out in sorrow and compassion. But if we don’t seek genuine understanding of the overall situation we are doomed to a repeat.

During the Kevin Johnson trial, I penned a column entitled “Time bomb in Meacham Park” where I described the racial dynamics leading to future “cascading” tragedies. I received venomous messages by a lot of folks, most in denial about what’s going on between Meacham Park and Kirkwood. Yet, we are again—at the foot of tragedy. With no lessons learned from the shooting of police officer Bill McEntee by Johnson, this time there’s more human carnage and more displaced anger and outrage.

Again, I will attempt to put the tragic incidents in context, to try to shed some light on the “faces at the bottom of the well” as Derrick Bell called it.

I didn’t know Cookie Thornton as long as some. KMOV TV reporter Doug Vaughn went to Kirkwood High School with him and described Thornton as the “nicest guy” you’d ever want to meet. I wholeheartedly agree with that description. Cookie was outgoing and friendly but he was no pushover. The first time I met Cookie and he was telling me about his encounters with Kirkwood city officials and police, I jokingly asked him how he was going to get some respect with a name like Cookie.

The last time I talked to Cookie was when he called to say my column about Meacham Park was on the money. He also gave me an update on the latest barrage of harassment heaped upon him. The white media keeps emphasizing that he was angry about parking tickets. Those of us of darker hue always know that it’s always more than what the eye can see.

Cookie told me about an incident where he was outside a restaurant as the sole protestor. Two city officials who he believed were making his life miserable were inside eating. Before Cookie knew what was happening, the restaurant owner came out in a huff and tried to wrestle the protest sign from him growling that his business was getting bad publicity. Cookie finally lost his footing and fell to the ground and the owner whacked him a few times with the sign before stomping back inside to call the police. When police arrived, guess who was arrested for peace disturbance? Cookie Thornton.

It was these kinds of incidents that caused me increased concern. Never in my wildest thoughts did I think Cookie would do anything to hurt someone; I was more fearful about his physical safety. When I urged him to get others to join him, he would tell me that others were too scared but he refused to be intimidated or disrespected. He wanted more for his Meacham Park than disenfranchisement, colonization and police terror.

Kirkwood was successful at demonizing and dismissing Kevin Johnson who now faces execution. What about a Cookie Thornton? What about a man who did all the things that American says you need to do to be a respected and productive citizen. A star athlete in high school who attended college and who tried to become a successful businessman, he was not the thug that Johnson had been portrayed to be.

Kirkwood has some big problems to deal with. One is that they’ve had two black men respond to their conditions in a very violence specific way. There was no random violence per se as when someone shoots up a McDonald’s and knows none of the victims. Johnson and Thornton targeted the people that they saw as their enemies. When Cookie stormed into City Hall shouting “All I want is justice!,”  he echoed the sentiment of many Meacham Park citizens without voice.

This means that increasing security, passing new repressive laws, blaming people for talking about racism, etc. is not going to get the city to a place of healing.

I’ve been checking the blogs and talk shows all week to monitor responses to this horrific tragedy. Many have called it “senseless” when it should be called “preventable.”

One white person said if the Cookie Monster didn’t like where he lived, he should have moved. Another white person said that sometimes all a person wants is to be listened to, even if people don’t agree with them.

Which one of the above do you believe will contribute to a healing process in Kirkwood?

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