Blood on the Floor…The Recession and Workplace Violence
By DAVID ROSEN
At 7 am on Tuesday, August 3rd, Omar Thornton attended a disciplinary hearing at the Hartford Distributors, a Budweiser distribution warehouse in Manchester, CT. Thornton, a driver for two years, had been caught on video swiping some beer and was attending a union-mediated hearing to determine his continuing employment. Faced with a choice between being fired and quitting, he chose to pull out a handgun and murdered seven fellow employees before fatally shooting himself.
Workplace mass murders (often accompanied by the assailant’s suicide) are popularly known as “going postal,” named after the Edmond, OK, post office murders that took place on August 20, 1986. At dawn on that hot summer day, Patrick Henry Sherrill, known as “Crazy Pat,” a letter carrier, reported for his shift in his blue uniform carrying a mailbag on his shoulder. Unfortunately, Sherrill’s mailbag concealed two .45-caliber pistols, a .22-caliber handgun and 300 rounds of ammunition.
Authorities later determined that the .45s had been legally checkout from the local National Guard Armory where Sherrill was a member. After shooting the shift supervisor, Sherrill prowled the building and, over the next ten minutes, discharged more then fifty shots, killing a total of 14 fellow employees; he then committed suicide.
Over the last two decades, random and isolated workplace murders have become part of the workplace landscape. According to FBI and other federal data, there has been a steady decline in workplace murders since 1992 mirroring the decline in crime and murder in general over the last two decades. However, the unexpected up-tick in workplace murders in 2000 and 2004 may be a bell-weather of a deeper crisis currently underway.
Thornton’s mass murder and suicide is but the latest of an alarming increase in recent incidents of workplace and domestic violence by working class men and women. These events explode onto front-page media attention for a day or so and then disappear, lost in the tide of dooms-day pronouncements that clutter daily reporting. Amidst the country’s deepening economic stagnation, one marked by the ever-present fear of unemployment and real poverty, the plight of ordinary working Americans has never been graver.
Other then the distracted rantings of Tea Party ideologues for lower taxes and smaller government, no one is demanding justice for working people, ordinary poor and middle-class Americans. This has been the greatest failure of the Obama presidency and the clueless Democrats. We are living through the greatest undeclared period of class war since the 1930s Depression era — and working Americans are losing.
Adding to the complexity of the Thornton shooting is the soft-spoken issue of race. Thornton was an African-American, in a common-law marriage with a white woman, and is reported to have mentioned to relatives that white employees harassed him. The alignment of class, race and mass violence exposes the deepest divide in American society. Failure to satisfactorily address it will only intensify the mounting social crisis.