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Race, Racism & Rampage Shootings

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Earlier this week, Omar Thornton walked out of a meeting in which he was being fired from his job at a beer distributor in Connecticut and opened fire on his former co-workers.  He shot 10 people, eventually killing 8 and ending his own life.  Omar Thornton was African American and all of his victims were white.   According to a number of a reports, Thornton said he experienced racial harassment at his workplace at the hands of those co-workers he later gunned down.   In some ways, what Thornton did was exceedingly rare.  In other ways, it was all too common.

Rampage shootings are an overwhelmingly white and male phenomenon.  In this way, Thornton stands out as an anomaly.   From Charles Whitman, perhaps the first rampage shooter who climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin and gunned down 14 people in 1966, to James von Brunn who walked into the Washington, D.C. Holocaust Museum in 2009 and shot a security guard, the perpetrators of rampage shootings are most often white men.   As I noted back in 2009, there's extensive research linking race, gender and rampage.

Probably the most widely-cited sociological research on this subject is Katherine Newman's (and co-authors') 2004 book Rampage Shootings. While Newman et al., do a decent job addressing gender in rampage shootings, there's very little in their analysis about race and nothing at all about racism, which is disappointing given that the overwhelming pattern here is that white men are perpetrators.  Exceptions, like Virgnia Tech (where the shooter was Asian American) and this one involving Thornton, only serve to highlight this larger pattern.

What is all too common in this story is the systemic racism that Thornton reportedly endured and the desperation he felt in how to deal with it.  The recording of Thornton's 911 call (h/t Johnny Eric Williams) offer a glimpse into some of this:

"You probably want to know the reason why I shot this place up. This place is a racist place. They're treating me bad over here. And treat all other black employees bad over here, too. So I took it to my own hands and handled the problem. I wish I could have got more of the people."

Crossposted from Race-Talk (via Racism Review).