The December day began like any other. Will Corporon awoke to the noisy bustle of his life, five children and loving wife. He headed out, a normal day in the life of a hardworking American father.
Until the day’s news reared with an offending slap.
Corporon sent me a text shortly after he heard the news: “Hey, Mary, how come there is a federal hate crimes trial for Dylann Roof but not our idiot?”
“Our idiot” is known to the Kansas Department of Corrections as F. Glenn Miller Jr. He drove to the Kansas City area from southern Missouri in 2014 intent on murdering Jews. He shot and killed Corporon’s father and his 14-year-old nephew, and then turned his shotgun on the beloved wife and mother of another family who had ventured out that rainy afternoon to visit her mother in a nursing home. All were Christian.
People in the metro area certainly know the story, have ingrained the victims’ names and faces to memory — William Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno. But outside of Kansas City, not so much. That’s part of what makes Will Corporon upset, and with good reason.
In America, deranged people can kill with racial, ethnic, religious or any of a wide range of hatreds and receive far differing reactions from the national media, the general public and seemingly even from the forces of justice.
And so 24/7 news coverage of Roof agitated Corporon, who lives in Arkansas.
What if the idiot had been successful and had killed numerous Jewish people? Would the national outcry have been different? What if the victims had been black? Would advocacy groups or high-profile individuals have stepped in to pressure for federal attention?
“In this day and age, why pass up the opportunity to send a message?” Corporon asked. Fair questions — and hard to answer. I was truly surprised that Miller’s murders did not become a bigger national story.
The most recent federal data on hate crimes detail more than 7,000 people targeted in 2015. Hate crimes targeting the victim’s real or perceived race/ethnicity/ancestry were the most prevalent, accounting for 59 percent of the incidents. Next was religious bias at nearly 20 percent, followed by sexual orientation at almost 18 percent.
Among the hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, black people by far were the main victims, drawing more than 50 percent of the crimes. Whites followed at nearly 19 percent. Anti-Hispanic or Latino bias motivated 9 percent of the crimes. Among crimes motivated by religious bias, anti-Semitism accounted for more than half of the attacks, followed by anti-Muslim bias at about 22 percent.
So the despicable actions of both Roof and Miller fit the leading patterns of hate crimes.
There are explanations for the lack of federal hate crime charges in the Kansas murders. Corporon accepts them, to a point. “We did get justice,” he said. “But to me, it’s more about a message that the U.S. government stands up and says, ‘This is a hate crime and we aren’t going to tolerate it.’ ”
A decision was made between Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe and the U.S. attorney for Kansas at that time, Barry Grissom. The goal was to get the case to trial quickly. Federal action would take longer.
Like South Carolina, Kansas has no hate crime law. But it does have enhanced sentencing for bias-motivated crimes. Miller was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Asthmatic and feeble, he will die in prison.
Officials didn’t want to put the community and the families through another trial to reach the same result. As Corporon concedes, they can’t kill Miller twice. The dignity and respect afforded the families during every phase of the trial was a testament to prosecutors and the judge.
Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Grissom within hours of the shootings and arrived to speak at a massive community memorial. President Barack Obama asked to be kept abreast as the case proceeded. “It got the kind of scrutiny that you would hope the government would give a case,” Grissom said.
But it never was branded with federal hate crime charges.
In Roof’s case, the opposite occurred. Federal officials moved first; state charges are still pending. Roof’s sentencing in the federal case is set for Jan. 3.
More than 50 years of age separate Roof and Miller. But they are largely the same type of person. Both dwell on concocted versions of racial strife. Roof wanted to start a race war, inspired by online reports of nonexistent murder sprees by black people targeting whites. Miller, a longtime white supremacist, was obsessed by the belief that immigrants, Jewish people and minorities are pitted against white people.
Corporon sees a common theme. “It’s all just another example of ways that we are mean and hostile to each other,” he said.
Yet both crimes also engendered tremendous acts of kindness from people moved by the violence, strangers who were deeply offended by the hatred. Maybe it will be at that level that these hateful acts will be overcome.