Photograph of Kelly Thomas’ injuries inflicted by Fullerton California police. The photograph was taken by Ron Thomas, a former Orange County Sheriff’s deputy and the victim’s father, on July 6, 2011 at UC Irvine Medical Center. Cathy Thomas, the victim’s mother, settled with Orange County last summer for $1 million, while Ron Thomas has vowed to pursue additional civil action in the wake of the acquittals. (Ron and Cathy Thomas are divorced.)
Kelly Thomas was a homeless man, reportedly paranoid schizophrenic, living in Fullerton California. It’s no shame to be poor, but to be homeless is no great honor either. On July 5th, 2011, in order to drive Thomas out of the area, employees at a restaurant placed a call to police falsely accusing Thomas of breaking into cars. When the police arrived, they launched into a thirty-three minute, brutally savage beating of Thomas. He died five days later. Last week the police officers, who were facing numerous criminal charges for the murder of Kelly Thomas, were acquitted.
Widipedia – Death of Kelly Thomas
The public outcry and the media opinion are virtually unanimous – the officers should be held accountable. Apparently, however, the law in Orange county is written to protect officers from prosecution involving deadly force – because it’s “part of their job.” Still, the acquittal by a jury seems hard to believe. It is perhaps what is most disturbing about the case. Because, while police officers need a certain latitude to do their jobs, latitude and a license to kill, are two different things. When a municipality allows law enforcement officers to get away with deliberate murder, it is no longer “government,” because is has become an authoritarian regime.
In light of the breakdown of legitimate governance at the municipal level, it seems to me that charges can be and should be pursued on a federal level. While I usually don’t support classification of crime based on something subjective as “hate,” if that’s what it takes to get the officers prosecuted federally, then so it should be. It appears that Thomas was white, and based on the names of the officers, it may be they are Hispanic – which might indicate racism and a basis for federal prosecution.
Hate crimes are usually thought of as being defined on race, religion or sexual orientation. Some resources indicate that the notion of “hate crimes” is legally based on the broader perception of inclusion in a “certain social group.” There seems little question that the conspiracy against Kelly Thomas was certainly based on the perception of his being a member of the homeless community as well as the perception that he was schizophrenic.
What may be even more disturbing than the acquittals by a rogue jury, is that the murder of Kelly Thomas was the result of conspiracy by definition, and yet to my knowledge there hasn’t been any charges filed on that basis. It’s my understanding that if you and your buddy go to rob a bank, if only to steal some money, and your buddy ends up killing someone, you can also be held accountable for the murder. Such is the case with the Sidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen involvement.
Everybody knows, law enforcement caters especially to the whims of the small business community. There seems little doubt that the employee at the Sidebar is telling the truth when he says there was an “anti-homeless” policy at the restaurant. Maybe that wouldn’t make it conspiracy, except the officers most likely knew fully well that the call was to clear the area and that Kelly Thomas wasn’t actually causing any trouble, or doing anything illegal. (“Loitering” is actually subjective given the fact that homeless people have to go somewhere. Being “somewhere” is pretty much as inalienable as constitutional rights can be. And in fact, upper courts have often turned municipal kangaroo courts upside down over arbitrary and subjective ordinances.) The rest of the evidence suggests the officers really didn’t much care what if any charges they intended, or even could, file against Thomas. Their intent was to teach him a lesson – on their terms, about “being there,” even though it wasn’t really a legal issue. The police and the restaurant acted in concert to enforce their own, illegal, hateful, anti-homeless policy. Then, it went too far, Kelly Thomas was killed, and like the metaphoric bank-robbery, the restaurant should be liable for the manslaughter of Kelly Thomas as well.
With the “great-recession” municipalities all over this country have had to grapple with the strains caused by increased poverty rates. Even though it appears the economy has improved recently, the fact remains that the US is in decline against the rest of the world economy. The reality is, there is relatively less wealth to be distributed among more people. Some suggest the answer for Kelly Thomas was a matter of more money for treatment and services. In truth, that isn’t likely to happen in the next twenty or more years.
Certainly, living under bridges and overpasses, in public parks, parking lots, sidewalks, parked cars, subway tunnels, shanty’s, slums and Hooverville’s, is not an appropriate answer. Never-the-less, it may often be the best option amidst worse options. The new economic reality might only be offset by a different kind of generosity. City governments have to learn, beating the holy fuck out of someone like Kelly Thomas isn’t going to make all the other undesirables, who would like nothing more than to have a home, magically vanish. Instead, advocates and municipalities alike, should end their denials that are based on unrealistic solutions that have never worked, and make a more generous effort to accept people as they are, where they are, and learn to offer help in literal context – rather than being cruel and inhumane at face value – while unrealistically waiting for the next apartment to be built.
The burning irony of the Kelly Thomas event is that many of the small businesses that drive the anti-homeless policy, are the ones who are most adamant about conservatism, independence, and constitutional integrity. It would take a total moron not to understand that the underlying propaganda is also exactly what has cultivated and grown the welfare agenda, liberal social policy, and even Obamacare in this country.
Inalienable constitutional rights are for “all” US citizens. Governments and businesses cannot have it both ways. Religious zealots also have to understand, their right to their religion isn’t likely to survive without the US Constitution. With the right to govern, also comes the responsibility to ensure that inalienable rights are not denied to anyone. Even if it isn’t convenient economically or spiritually.
© 2013 – Jim Casey
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