Laws don’t prevent hate

Posted on August 28, 2010. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

Categorizing some criminal acts as hate crimes has always been a bad idea, not least because it shifts perspective from cold, hard facts to overheated political bias.

In other words, hate crimes were established to make symbolic statements, not to serve any criminal justice ends.

Thus it’s probably not terribly surprising that instead of Omar Thornton’s name being written into history as the worst hate-crime murderer of all time, his racially driven killings of co-workers in Manchester, Conn., earlier this month aren’t even considered to be a hate crime.

Events like this are what make a laughingstock of the hate-crime crowd. It’s not necessarily a hate crime when a black guy shoots 10 people, all of whom are white. But when that guy calls 911 and confesses to gunning them down because they were white—and racist villains, in his mind—and says he wishes he could have killed more of them, well, that makes a pretty convincing case.

If Thornton’s actions don’t rise to the level of a hate crime, then nothing ever will. Family members described him as seething over perceived racial harassment, yet neither the company he worked for nor the union he belonged to has any record of his ever filing a complaint.

When asked to come into work early, he arrived armed to the teeth with a shotgun in his vehicle and two 9mm pistols in his lunch pail.

He apparently didn’t “snap” in the typical sense of the word, but anticipated some sort of conflict and planned a mass execution.

That morning he was confronted with video evidence apparently showing him stealing from his company. Once he had accused, judged and executed his victims, he called 911 and told the dispatcher that he wished he “could have got more of the people.”

Then there’s this final kicker: Midway through his four-minute call, just after he talks about how horribly he’s been treated by the “racist” company that (1) hired him in the first place and (2) promoted him, Thornton pauses and says, “F****** Manchester itself is racist.”

That under-reported remark is telling, coming as it does as a man’s last words. (He was about to kill himself.) Thornton had become so consumed with racial hatred that he extended his condemnation to the entire city.

There’s little evidence to support his claims. The Hollander family, which owns the beer distributorship where Thornton worked, has a strong legacy of fair-handed treatment of employees and stalwart support of community.The president of the company once sued the city on behalf of mostly minority elementary students in a dispute over local public school funding.

Manchester, like Connecticut itself, has a relatively low violent-crime rate, which makes the enormity of Thornton’s crime reverberate even more. His eight murders are twice as many as Manchester saw in the last 10 years of crime reports, and he singlehandedly committed more hate-crime homicides in one hour at one location than were recorded for all of last year across the entire nation.

Looking back over various news reports of the worst hate crimes, they pale in comparison to what happened up in Manchester.

When four young white hoodlums armed with a pipe and a police baton went on a rampage after President Obama was elected in 2008, New York authorities called the episode one of the worst series of hate crimes in years. Over a 90-minute time span, the four whites assaulted two blacks, sending one to the hospital; threatened a Hispanic man and another group of blacks; and then mistakenly ran over a white person.

Nobody was killed, although the white victim was in a coma for 45 days.

Last December in Washington, Naveed Haq was convicted in what prosecutors hailed as the state’s worst hate crime ever after shooting six people, killing one, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Shortly before surrendering, the killer told authorities he was tired of Jews, Israel and U.S. foreign policy.

There are eerie similarities between the Haq and Thornton cases. Both shooters were 34, and both justified their murderous acts to their mothers. Thornton called his mother to tell her he had killed the racists who were bothering him. Haq was recorded in jailhouse conversations telling his mother he shot the people at the center “for a good reason.”

There’s been a divergence in the media coverage between the two, however. Nobody wondered or cared what absurd beliefs Haq harbored about the Jewish Federation employees he shot. Certainly, nobody gave them any credence; instead, he was called a “hate-spouting gunman” in an Associated Press news report.

Personally, I think we should do away with the hate-crime concept altogether. It was born of the very narrow politically correct agenda that it now exclusively serves. Hate-crime laws don’t prevent hate and, as the Thornton case shows, don’t even consistently account for crimes.

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