Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why You Should Care About Kelly Thomas

You may have seen this on the news lately and you may not.  That is the video of two Fullerton police officers that have been ordered to stand trial for the beating death of a homeless man, which you can see by clicking that link.  I need to warn you that many people who have viewed that video have been shaken to their core in disbelief, and while I cannot claim the same because police abuse of power and law enforcement overreach is something I research actively and pay close attention to, what amazed me about that video is its brutality and naked brazenness.  These two, and later six, individuals committed a murder last July, period.  And hopefully they will pay for their crimes.

People may wonder: what happens when one of our homeless, mentally disturbed citizens has an encounter with our boys in blue?  The aforementioned link might give you an idea.  Now, of course mileage may vary, but in my opinion based on the things I read, awareness of the mentally disturbed and the training to be able to deal with them are both sorely lacking amongst the rank and file of the police, and I dare anyone who watches that video to tell me that is not painfully obvious, at least in the case of the Fullerton Police Department.  I will not accept any less than the dishonorable firing of all officers involved, some significant jail time for the two officers who primarily instigated this incident, and some heavy fines, probation and community service and perhaps some jail time of their own for the other officers who arrived later and not only did nothing to calm the situation, they continued to escalate things until Kelly Thomas was in a coma.  He died five days later after being taken off life support.  I am told many large police departments have officers on staff trained to deal with the mentally ill.  These people have degrees in psychology and/or social work and are able to restrain and neutralize threatening mentally ill folks without injuring or killing them.  It begs the question: does the Fullerton Police Department not have such people on staff, or did these meatheads simply choose to not call them?

What was Kelly Thomas' crime, you may ask?  The one he paid for with his life?  Well, someone saw him being homeless in a public place (a bus depot) and thought perhaps, maybe, possibly, he was vandalizing and/or stealing cars.  It turns out he was doing nothing of the sort, and no proof has surfaced that he did.  He was a very well-known homeless presence in the area and nothing has surfaced about any sort of criminal record.  His father is a former Orange County Sherriff's Deputy.  He had no weapons on his person and was not directly threatening anyone.  He was not even threatening the officers; he simply lacked the mental awareness to comply with their instructions.  For that, he died.

People need to pay attention to the Kelly Thomases of the world.  Kelly Thomas could have been anyone, really.  The police overstep their bounds all the time and have since time in memoriam.  It is only now, with the rise of social media and the proliferation of recording devices, that the people have a weapon with which to fight back.  Maybe next time someone will think twice when a police officer asks them to do something.  Maybe they'll hit the "record" button on a camera first.  And maybe they should.

Be sure to check out a new episode of the Edge of Chaos podcast (linked on the right) in which we discuss this issue, and other issues concerning overreach of law enforcement.