Normalizing Police Violence: The Case of Kelly Thomas


I have written about the Kelly Thomas case on two different occasions (here and here). One of them was cited as a “comprehensive overview,” but in my overview, I missed over two key significant components to the Kelly Thomas case. This article will serve as an addition to those two other articles.

First and foremost, there is an accusation resulting in a lawsuit from a bar doorman claiming his boss filed a false police report against Kelly Thomas.

From this CNN article:

“I knew her report to be false. I complained about that false report that night to my manager and continued to complain about the false report until the date I was terminated, on September 23, 2011,” said Reeves, who was hired in March 2010.

Reeve asserted Thomas was not breaking into cars, but merely picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot.

In short, the entire reason Officer Ramos and Wolfe (then later Officer Cicinelli) were there was because someone from the bar where Reeves worked, Slidebar Kitchen, reported to the police that Thomas was vandalizing cars in the parking lot.

As of yet, it does not appear clear whether Reeve is just mad he was fired for something unrelated to the Thomas case, so he sued his bosses riding a wave of publicity or if his claim of a false police report is factual. If it is the latter, then it makes the beating death of Kelly all the more sickening. Certainly, Slidebar Kitchen and its managers and staff are not responsible for his death nor what the police did to him, but if they set the whole thing in motion on a false pretense, then that’s disturbing.

Since the facts are not yet know, though, I do not want to say much else, but the next piece I missed in my last article is far more egregious to me since we do know the facts at this moment.

First, check out this video from Reason as a primer:

Essentially, Jay Cicinelli, one of the officers charged with involuntary manslaughter that was proved innocent said, “I was wrongfully terminated. How do you argue with a jury of 12 who all agree on the same thing?” He wants his job back. Thankfully, the people of Fullerton, as you saw above, are protesting that vehemently to the City Council. They do not want him back on the force.

And again, thankfully, neither does the Chief of Police, Captain Dan Hughes. I don’t know much about him, but just going by that snippet from the above video, his soft spoken rhetoric was reassuring. I just hope his action aligns with his words.

I find it appalling and disgusting that Cicinelli would want his job back after such a transgression.

Make no mistake about it: the system worked. People wanted justice for Kelly Thomas, so three of the six police officers involved in his beating and death were charged and then found not guilty by a jury of their peers. I cannot dispute that in such a context.

However, what I can dispute is the jury and the culture that informed their decision. Juries are undoubtedly willing to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. Among authority figures in the United States, police always rank highly. It’s a culture that defers to authority and giving the benefit of the doubt to the police, even in something as seemingly offensive and clear as the Kelly Thomas case.

In a provocative Thoughts on Liberty article, the author makes an analogy to this culture:

Just as rape culture normalizes sexual violence, cop culture normalizes police violence and reinforces the notion—to police and those judging their behavior—that a badge is a license to kill.

I can’t say I disagree with this analogy. It is indeed incredibly difficult to hold the police accountable and much of the reason is the American people’s acceptance of police violence.

Police Brutality

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