Friday, February 08, 2008

Because they can (but sometimes it turns ugly)

Let's get one thing straight, right from the beginning: I'm not going to defend the actions of Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton.

Thornton summarily executed five individuals. At least three of those individuals were, so far as I know, unarmed, and the two armed individuals he killed -- police officers -- were not killed in immediate self-defense, but rather in an obviously premeditated attack. Additionally, he critically wounded a fourth, probably unarmed individual, wounded a journalist who likely had no dog in the fight between Thornton and those Thornton was after, and recklessly endangered numerous other individuals with whom, so far as I know, he had no complaint at all.

It was wrong. Period. Thornton is not a hero. That, however, does not prove his rampage utterly devoid of lessons which desperately need learning.

Every time I attend a city council meeting -- anywhere -- I'm reminded of a scene from the loose Hunter S. Thompson biopic Where The Buffalo Roam in which actor Peter Boyle, cast as Carl Lazlo, Esquire, walks into a restaurant waving a knife and wearing a Richard Nixon mask. When the cashier remonstrates with him, he pulls a double take, points the knife at her, and says: "I'm the President of the United States and I can do anything I want."

Over the years, that attitude has become increasingly typical of local government:

We have shiny badges -- we won elections, or were appointed by those who won elections. We will tell you how to live. If you don't bow, scrape and conform (or, worse yet, if you fail to notice and genuflect before our !authorita!) we'll make you pay. If you complain, we'll make you pay more. If you protest, we'll have you arrested. If you resist, our boyos will gun you down like a dog and we'll call them heroes for it.

I was not terribly surprised to learn that something like this attitude was to be found very much on display in Kirkwood prior to Thorton's actions:

Charles Thornton left town for three days. Owning his own construction business, he had 7 vehicles which he parked in the area around his home. He received no complaints about the vehicles in the past, but when he returned from his three day trip, he found 21 parking tickets (one on each vehicle for each day he was gone). He felt he was being targeted for no real reason. He'd caused no harm to anyone. If his vehicles caused a problem, couldn't they have simply mentioned it to him without hundreds of dollars worth of tickets? Well, the Kirkwood Police had found an easy target to bring in some revenue, and they took advantage of the situation. Following this, the Kirkwood police found reasons to give Thornton over 150 citations .... He started attending City Council meetings .... He called the attitude of the City Council a "plantation mentality," and for that he was removed from a meeting. Eventually was arrested twice for speaking out, and a court order barred him from speaking in future Council meetings. He sued the City of Kirkwood, with the claim that his first amendment right to free speech was being violated. A federal judge threw out the case in late January.

As I've already clearly stated -- and as some commenters will no doubt ignore -- no, I don't think for a moment that this justifies Thornton's actions.

On the other hand, nothing justified the actions of the police and the public officials of Kirkwood, either. The big difference, apart from degree, was that they thought their shiny badges endowed them with impunity and immunity ... a point on which, as they learned in the last moments of their lives, they were very much mistaken.

Carl Drega. Marvin Heemeyer. Ronald "Bo" Ward. Charles "Cookie" Thornton. Look'em up. Isolated incidents, every one of them different in detail, every one of them tragic, every one of them crying out "learn from this, dammit."

I won't hold my breath. The sense of entitlement to rule is pervasive at the local level. City councils across the country routinely drive entrepeneurs out of business for no better reason than that they find enterprise offensive until it gets big enough to pad their !authorita! budgets. They don't think twice about telling homeowners how many holes per square inch their window screens must have, or what colors they may paint their houses (after curtsying and paying a fee for a permit, of course), because they can.

They have shiny badges, after all. They won elections, or they won the favor of those who won elections. They aren't going to give up their addiction to unquestioned authority easily. Some of them will give up their lives rather than give up that addiction. And some of them will find takers for that offer when they meet their own Charles Thorntons.

A final word or three on guns:

- No, this incident doesn't make a case for "gun control." A man who is willing to sacrifice his life in order to illegally kill five people isn't going to think twice about getting a gun just because you have a law against it. He's probably not going to worry too much about being double-parked in front of his killing ground, either. Get over it. There are more than 200 million guns in the US, and anyone with moderate skill and relatively common machine tools can make one if he can't buy one. Think you can get them all? Molon labe.

- Thanks to to a legal and cultural environment which discourages possession of the means of self-defense, there were precisely two individuals in any position to defend those attending Thursday's council meeting. Those two individuals -- police officers -- were the first two shot, after which the rest of the victims and prospective victims were reduced to throwing, or hiding under, chairs. "Gun control" in theory is victim disarmament in practice.

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