Race Kills

As I was laying in my bed watching a breaking news report about a multiple person shooting (eight killed, two injured) at Connecticut’s Hartford Distributors, the shock caused me to shake my head in disbelief.  Soon thereafter, I felt a sudden, more personal blow when the face of a Black man, Omar Thornton, 34, appeared on my TV screen.

“Goodness,” I thought.  “Not a brotha?”

According to a witnesses, a somewhat calm Thornton, who had no previous disciplinary notices, had been sitting in a meeting in which he was told to either resign or be fired for stealing beer (on video tape; the company also had someone following him).  At one point during this meeting Thornton went to get a drink and the shooting began.

Kristi Hannah, Thornton’s White girlfriend, said Thornton had never raised a hand to her, nor did he ever act aggressively.  Thornton’s uncle said his nephew told him that “I killed the five racist that was there that was bothering me.”  Thornton, himself, told a police negotiator:  “They [Hartford Distributors] treat all of the black employees bad over here.”  He continued on that he wish he had gotten more of “them” – racist.

During the shootings, witnesses claim Thornton was even chasing down specific people, running by others, to get to them.  At the beginning of the chaos, Thornton even killed his union rep, who had escorted him to the meeting.   Most workers believe that union reps are nothing more than extensions of the company, and unconcerned about employee rights so I wasn’t too surprised about this.

My heart goes out to the families of the deceased.  Whether they were racist or not, they did not deserve to die.  And I just wish Thornton would have found another way to vent his anger.  Leaving a daughter and other family around to have to get over his death and what he did for the rest of their lives is wrong.  Unfortunately, sometimes what’s wrong, looks right.

Thornton also called his mother right after the shootings and told her he loved her and his daughter.  His mother tried to talk him out of killing himself as the police moved in but to no avail.  Thornton spoke with a police negotiator on the phone as they were closing in, but he refused to surrender, encouraging the police to come and get him, almost defiantly.  He thought they were going to kill him anyway.

Hanna claims that she had Thornton take and show her the work bathroom wall pictures of a “hangman with a noose around its neck and a written statement saying, ‘kill the N-word.’ ”   Hanna said she told Thornton to take pictures  of the racial epithets because “he could get a lawyer and go after Budweiser.”  Another work bathroom picture, according to Hanna, displayed Thornton’s name and mentioned something about “hating Black people.”  Also, during a phone call, Hanna revealed that, while Omar was in the bathroom stall holding the cell phone up, she heard the head of Hartman Distributors telling the head union rep:   “I gotta get rid of this dumb Nigger.”

Hanna continued that she was present when Omar made two of several calls to his union rep to complain about racial discrimination and no one ever called him back, refuting Hartford Distributors statements that Thornton never complained.  When the reporter asked her if she had spoken with Thornton’s mother, she said that she had and said Thornton’s mother told her Thornton did what he did because of racism, and that he loved both of them.

Hartford Distributors denies that employees had racially tortured Thornton, and they allege he never reported he was being racially harassed.

What racists don’t get – be they Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the “Klan,” or otherwise – is that their words create perception and fuel a culture of race-based hatred that leads to not only more minorities being killed (by police, hate crimes, etc.), but there will also be times when minorities retaliate, especially when an employer, say, doesn’t address racist issues and/or discriminates.  Unchecked workplace discrimination by Whites against Whites also happens, but very few people understand that when you sit by and let minorities be discriminated against by management or others, you, a White individual, may become a victim of these discriminators, too, because they lack moral values and everyone becomes a problem if “you” don’t “fit in.”  Maybe you become a target because you hang out with the Blacks, Asians, or Hispanics at work?

Additionally, most employers pay lip service to workplace discrimination and many don’t even post laws against discrimination because they don’t want people to know their rights.  And many employers that do diversity training make it more about superficial or limited diversity, such as the problems White women may experience.  But workplace shootings aren’t that uncommon.  In fact, as recent as 2008, there were 421 workplace shootings in the United States, 99 of which were in retail settings, which led all types of workplace shootings.  And from 2004-2008, five years, an average of 526 workplace homicides occurred per year.

I thought is was a bit peculiar also that the employer had a detective and cameras watching Thornton.  This is a typical reaction by employers who harass employees, targeting the employees work performance/job by placing them under surveillance, looking for a reason to terminate them, especially when they complain.  And even though the employer says Thornton never complained, it’s common for minorities to complain by not actually writing up a complaint, fearing even more retaliation.

As a former manager/trained workplace investigator, and one who’s dealt with discrimination, I highly recommend anyone discriminated against at work to document, document, document; visit the federal government’s EEOC websites, as well as the state and local offices that deal with discrimination and educate yourself.  Also, read up and follow your company’s complaint procedure, but consult with an attorney and file with a government agency if you don’t believe you’re getting treated fairly.  Be proactive and cautious about whom you speak to; and send emails before discussing issues with your boss (or Human Resources) as much as possible so you leave a paper/email trail; and document what you discussed afterwards.

Don’t put up with discrimination, and be aware that once you complain, you probably will become a target, particularly when you’re a minority.  In general, employers don’t seem to “get it” or care to “get it” when minorities complain about racism or discrimination.  Be action-oriented and don’t be satisfied with smiles and dramatic looks of concern on the faces of your supervisor or HR rep.  Just be prepared for war.  You cannot take any chances; you must seek action and watch your back.

They say things always get worse before they get better.  But until Obama and others, particularly everyday people, get their head out of the sand and start talking about race, dealing effectively with racial discrimination in the workplace, and muzzle the Limbaugh’s, Hannity’s, and Beck’s, we will become sicker and sicker until something, or somebody else explodes, again, and again, and again.  But eventually we’ll run out of opportunities to address this pariah, race.