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What’s wrong with Kirkwood?

Tonight at 7 PM, a Kirkwood area contractor named Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton walked in to a city council meeting. On his way in he shot two police officers, then opened fire and shot five others, including the mayor, his intended target. He fired on the city attorney and missed; the attorney fought back by throwing chairs at Thornton until more police officers ran in and shot Thornton dead.

Five of Thornton’s victims are dead.Kirkwood is the place where Kevin Johnson hunted down, shot and killed police officer William McEntee after the Kirkwood Police were unable to save his half brother in 2005.

A little over a year ago, kidnapping victims Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby were found in a Kirkwood apartment.

Thornton and Johnson lived about three blocks apart, in Kirkwood’s Meacham Park neighborhood.

What’s wrong with Kirkwood?

Well, mostly Meacham Park, which is what was wrong with Kirkwood 20 years ago.

Kirkwood is largely an upper middle-class suburb today, although there are working-class pockets. At one time it was a railroad town, and it shows in some of the neighborhoods. But by and large, it’s the kind of place a doctor, lawyer, or executive wouldn’t be ashamed to call home, and a potential client wouldn’t think any less of a professional who hailed from there.

I know the area well and like it. In high school, I worked in a restaurant in Kirkwood. I worked in Kirkwood off and on from 1998 to 2005. I don’t live there mostly because I can’t afford to.

When I was a teenager, Meacham Park was mostly a nuisance. People from Meacham Park would come into the restaurant and cause trouble, making a mess or stealing things, whether it would be food off the salad bar or stupid stuff like napkins or straws. When a shift supervisor disappeared mysteriously one night and left the safe empty except for a single $5 bill and some singles, he hid out in Meacham Park. Another coworker who lived in Meacham Park found him–alive.

When parts of Meacham Park were leveled to make way for an enormous strip mall, I didn’t shed any tears for it.

How you fix the Meacham Park problem is pretty clear–provide opportunities. Thornton, by the accounts I’m hearing, did some things right. He had a bachelor’s degree and ran a small business. Unfortunately he racked up more than $18,500 worth of fines, which has been cited as a motive in the shootings. Thornton used to show up at city council meetings and cause trouble. I guess he couldn’t come up with a more constructive way to protest the fines.

It would have been better if he just would have gotten the permits he was supposed to get in order to conduct his business legally.

Thornton claimed discrimination, and others have said he would get ticketed for minor violations. I knew plenty of Kirkwood police officers from my time working in the restaurant. This goes back several years of course, but the Kirkwood police weren’t prejudiced against people because of the color of their skin. They were prejudiced against people who caused problems.

Many of my coworkers were African-American, and the only one who had problems with the Kirkwood police was involved in criminal activity, so it was justifiable.

So I believe they may have targeted Thornton, but I believe the motivation was the past violations.

I don’t know many details of what’s happening, but if you’re a praying person, please pray for the city of Kirkwood and the families of the six deceased and two wounded.

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