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Cruel realities

August 3, 2010 1:06:36 PM PDT
It was slap-in-the-face reality check. I was walking across Central Park from my every-four-month nap in the dentist's chair (I look forward to these thrice annual visits as a way to catch up on my sleep), thinking how lucky we are to live and/or work in New York City.

The park was jammed with people of all stripes, talking dozens of languages on a warm summer's day. Beautiful, I thought, although I found my true self emerging when I started silently complaining about the mugginess. Stop it, I said to myself. How dare you complain when we have all this beauty and happiness all around?

And it worked.

Until I walked in the office and the cruel reality of humanity took over.

Not sure exactly what was going through Omar Thorton's head when he decided to start shooting this morning at a beer distributor warehouse in Manchester, Connecticut. But we can imagine.

Thorton, a driver for the distributor, had been asked to quit. He apparently had been filching a case or three of beer every now and then. There's one report from the parents of an ex-girlfriend that he had complained about being racially harassed at work; Thorton was black.

And so he had been summoned with his union rep to a disciplinary hearing. But he apparently had no intention of participating. On his way to the meeting, he started shooting - his union rep and several of his co-workers.

The uncle of someone in our newsroom was there, and watched in horror as the man he was walking with was killed during the rampage, and then ran when Thorton started yelling that he was going to shoot him too.

When he was done, authorities said Thorton turned his gun on himself - victim number 9 in the carnage.

The fear of losing a job is strong in anyone who's lucky enough to still have a job, so we can only imagine the angst Thorton must have felt, knowing he was going to be let go. What we don't know, at least not yet, is how the angst turned to rage and violence. We're in Manchester, tonight at 11, to find out. Marcus Solis leads our coverage.

And just to put this in some perspective, workplace violence in America is now part of the national fabric, alas. Between 1992 and 2006, 11,613 people were killed at work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What used to be called "going postal" clearly now has fatal meaning at all kinds of workplaces.

Also at 11, we're on Staten Island, where community activists are leading a "take back the night" event to fight the epidemic of hate crimes that have erupted in that borough. At least 10 attacks in the past four months - aimed at Mexican immigrants. Jeff Pegues is on Staten Island for us.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg with his AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

And thanks to those who wrote in yesterday, in response to the proposed "surge" of National Guard troops at the Mexico border in the Southwest, and to Pres. Obama's pledge to end the military occupation of Iraq.

Here are two of your responses.

From Martin Schwartz of Nanuet:

"It will only be effective if the National Guard troops are armed, given arrest powers by the governor of the state, and highly visible at and near the border with armor and air support. This would provide the same kind of deterrent effect as does flooding a high-crime section of a city with a large uniformed police presence. Using troops in a support role is a misuse of resources. Technicians and civilians can do "support work". Unless this is done soon, we might face the prospect of having to bring in the U.S. Army and the Marines to keep the Mexican drug cartels from crossing the border in force. And that would require Congress repealing the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the use of military personnel (other than the Coast Guard) from engaging in civilian law enforcement on non-federal property.

"There is a Civil War going on in Mexico, in part fueled by the poorly thought out anti-drug policies of President Calderon, in part hobbled by the pervasive corruption in the Mexican police and military, and in part precipitated by America's insatiable demand for drugs and our failure to decriminalize marijuana and turn it into a legal, taxed commodity, much like alcohol. Neither are particularly healthy, but making their production and use unlawful, has failed in the past, engendered organized crime in America, and was and is a dismal waste of law enforcement resources that could best be used to deal with the suppression of the trade in the really dangerous drugs --- heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine ---- as well as the burgeoning misuse and diversion of prescription medication.

Martin W. Schwartz
Nanuet, NY
Former Special Agent - U.S. Customs
Former Assistant District Attorney, Bronx Country, NYC
Former Special Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice

And Kitten Harrington of New York wrote about the Iraq pullout:

"I don't think it will work. I think it's too late to pull out because Bush made one lifetime mess until the end of time on Earth and the mess in which he made can now be undone. I doubt any more of our people will sign up to go overseas now after the leak that the Pakistani government is working with the Taliban.

"I don't think Iraq is strong enough to stand on its own ...without Americans; but, hey, we have to pull out in order to save Americans from a war that really never was nothing but George W. Bush's father's dirty undone laundry when he was President.

I feel really bad for the Iraqi people because they never did anything to us.

Lee Storm of Madison, New Jersey, also believed the pullout is a long time coming:

"Honestly, our military has been in Iraq long enough. They've fought, they've died, they've stressed as they watched their friends die. They've done what they can. Iraq needs builders now, and they need to stand up and fight for themselves. Unfortunately, they and their government have to want this and all the soldiers the U.S. has won't make a difference if the difference doesn't come from within. Sure, they may wipe out some of the violence, but after that, the change has to come from within the people.

"Bring them home; we have things we need doing here, too."

And despite a slam recently about some asides after a story, Roberta Pliner of Manhattan has no beef about what I said after a story on our 6 p.m. newscast: "I liked your wisecrack about the animal control people who couldn't manage to catch the New Jersey bear while he slept for TWO HOURS on a golf course."

As always, thanks for writing in.

BILL RITTER

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