An Injustice: The Brutal Beating and Death of Kelly Thomas

This content originated from a Facebook post of mine and some Tweets. I’ve added some additional content and links. 

Back in the summer of 2011, a schizophrenic homeless man — or just better known as a “human being” — Kelly Thomas, was accosted by six members of the Fullerton Police Department. They ended up using Tasers on him multiple times, beating him and the picture here is the result of that. His death was the ultimate result. When the case broke, I recall seeing the video where Kelly pleaded and cried:

“Dad help me.”
“God help me.”
“Help me. Help me. Help me.”

It’s haunting and disturbing. Today, two officers were charged with second-degree murder and felony involuntary manslaughter, among other charges. They were both acquitted of all charges. Look at that picture. Yes, I was not one of the jurists, but this seems a clear-cut case of injustice. Did Kelly beat himself to death? Did he manufacture that video? Did he take the officers’ fists and pound his own face in with them? It’s disgusting and appalling on so many levels.

Earlier today, I was going to do a rant of sorts about the treatment of poor people and the homeless in this country. I find the treatment and the way we perceive poor people to be deplorable, mostly from the hardliners, conservative-types, but there is a certain paternalism from the left that’s nauseating, too, in fairness.

In conjunction with the mistreatment of poor people and homeless people is the mistreatment of the mentally ill and the stigma therein since they often fall to homelessness, like Kelly. And often, they are mishandled by the police. There are example after example after example of officers using excessive force or even killing those afflicted with a mental illness because of lack of proper training or precaution.

So, all this sort of ties neatly into an ugly, stain of a bow on our society.

Fortunately, for Kelly, if there is a silver lining in this disgusting mess, is that his case received a lot of attention and a national outpouring. Some don’t even receive that. Notice this link here for one example and how about this one for another (more on this one in another post).

The defense attorney for the two officers acquitted in Kelly’s case were said to be “doing their job; they had no malice in their heart.” If this is doing their job, then we have a serious, serious problem.

This is a complex, multitudinous issue here, but nonetheless, we can distill it down to three major areas here: 1.) The way we treat and perceive those in poverty or those homeless or those afflicted with a mental illness is far, far off track for the year 2014. 2.) The police handling of those individuals therein whether it’s in the application of the Drug War or the primary focus on minorities or the use of excessive force, resulting in death sometimes, like with Kelly here, is something we need to address. 3.) There is an inexcusable lack of adequate, quality data on officer-involved shootings, whether they were deemed justified or not, whether they resulted in injury or death and so on.

I do not seek to generalize all officers as bad, but I also do not take solace in the “bad apple” theory where people tell us that the stories we see of bad cops is a result of bad apples, as bad apples exist in any profession. I disagree. Not because I think all cops are bad — that’s absurd, but because there is a real systematic issue here. There is money in the Drug War. There is military grade weaponry and armor and so on being given to police departments throughout the United States. SWAT teams are likewise popping up and instituting raids on some of the most benign of activities. There is accessibility to the poor neighborhoods and poor people. Some commentators talk about how all of this creates a psychological “us”vs. “them” mentality. I do not accept the bad apple theory.

I particularly liked Andrew Cohen’s take on this in his article here:

Immediately after the verdict, the “dad” whose son cried out for help that night was predictably shaken by the acquittals. “I just don’t get it,” said Ron Thomas. He doesn’t but I do. The law protects the police more than it protects the mentally ill in America. If you need more proof then consider the abuse and neglect the mentally ill endure in the nation’s prisons all over the country. So why should we have expected jurors in this case to have honored Thomas’ legacy by holding responsible the men who so savagely beat him? We’ve dehumanized the poor, and the homeless, and the mentally ill, and this is what we get.

To be clearer, too, I’m not singling out cops. I think rejection of the bad apple theory applies in other areas such as rape culture or white privilege. Falling back on the bad apple theory allows people to brush aside those larger problems, which is what I take issue with.

But my main questions are these:

  • Why is that we treat the least among us the worst among us?
  • Why do we seem so unwilling to hold the police accountable for their actions when they go astray?

Did this man, Kelly Thomas, punch himself in the face? Did he brutalize his own face? Did he send himself to a coma? Did he kill himself? What does a “not guilty” verdict say about this face?

Kelly Thomas

I just want to put this out there: Whenever very public cases like Trayvon Martin or this recent case pictured disturbingly above, I am always seeking caution with being too hasty or giving into “trial by public” or presuming I know the law or the information the jurors know.

To be fair, I sometimes fail in that endeavor, but I feel the outrage over the Kelly Thomas case is justifiable even more so than Martin’s. Primarily this is because unlike the Martin case, there is not only a gruesome picture as evidence, but a 33 minute video of the incident.

I agree that the system worked. Two officers were charged and a jury found them innocent. I can’t downplay that. But yet…that doesn’t mean the outrage is not justified even sans whatever information the jury had. I would kill to know what they know.

I mean there is self-defense and just beating the shit out of someone. There is resisting arrest and merely trying to survive an assault.

We can see his face. We know he was beaten to death. How is nobody found culpable for that? I really do not get it.

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