Kelly Thomas: No Justice in Life or in Death

Two police officers whose brutal attack on defenseless homeless man on July 5th, 2011, was captured on video, and seen by dozens of witnesses were quitted of all charges. The horrific murder and the subsequent verdict highlight our indifference to the homeless and mentally ill who live in the hundreds of thousands on the streets.

The headlines have flashed across the entire country. Former Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos was acquitted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the 2011 death of Kelly Thomas. Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. There were actually six police officers involved that sad day.

Kelly Thomas was a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man who was known by many people. Thomas was beloved, not abandoned, but mental illness kept him on the streets.

The facts are horrific. A 33 minute video captured the brutal attack on the side of a busy street. Onlookers and passersby don’t come to Kelly’s aid. Eventually, the bruised, bleeding half-dead Kelly was attended to by medical personnel, but it was too late. He died after 5 days on life-support.

Kelly’s beating at a bus stop was done in public. No one came to his aid. Cars and passersby watched. The investigators interviewed 151 witnesses — yes, that is 151 people stared, watched and did nothing — viewed seven surveillance videos and two videos recorded by witnesses on their cellphones. In addition, a recording device attached to leader of the assault, which all Fullerton officers wear, recorded the murder in vivid detail. Only two of the six officers involved are were charged in his death, four others that took part were not.

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, waged a relentless battle to raise awareness about Kelly’s murder, the police cover-up, and ultimately about the fate of the mentally ill on our streets. Residents of Fullerton took to the city council to task and the FBI investigated the crime – but ultimately did nothing. Fullerton residents and the city were so shook up by the murder that they set up a taskforce to look for ways to improve the plight of the homeless in Fullerton. But none of that stopped the jury from exonerating the accused.

One of the main reasons that the jury could not convict the officers is because of indifference to the plight of the homeless. The numbers are staggering: hundreds of thousands of people call the streets their home every night. They sleep over subway grates, in alleyways and doorways. They are caught in a vicious cycle with no easy way out.

Those who call the street home are mostly ignored as if they do not exist. From time to time a passerby will show compassion, offering food, money, a kind word. Yet, most of us find ways to harden our hearts to their plight. We dismiss them as junkies, bums, beggars, or mentally-ill. Cities create laws to banish them from our sight. Yet, each homeless person, no matter their mental, physical, or hygienic condition, is a human being endowed with the same soul as anyone else.

In addition to their plight living on the streets of America, literally under our feet, the homeless are also targets of random murders across the country. Kelly Thomas’s murder was just one of many to make the papers.

Why are homeless people targeted for such random killing? Often because they are regarded them as less than human, murderers wrongly believed no one would miss these creatures of the streets. Some of the murderers have readily admitted that they calculated that no one would miss these people.

Kelly Thomas’s tragic life and death, and the resulting aquittle of the murderers, is another wake-up call to the issue of the homeless on their streets.

Hopefully it will not take more grizzly videos of a homeless person being bludgeoned, run-over, or stabbed and left to die by the side of the road for America to start taking notice.


A Rabbi’s Testimony: The Repression and Elimination of OccupyLA

Protester is pinned to the cement by four LAPD officers during non-violent civil disobedience at OccupyLA Nov. 29, 2011. Notice the severity of his treatment after sitting in a circle in the middle of City Hall park after being ordered to leave.

There are many reports, videos and photos online capturing the protests, violence, and arrests as the final, large-scale, Occupy protest in the country came to end. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to tell my story as a clergy witness to the police crackdown on dissident voices and the disappointing conduct of Mayor Villaraigosa and the leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department.It’s difficult to describe the entirety of events which took place as OccupyLA was raided and dismantled late Tuesday night, November 29th, into the early morning hours on November 30th. The protest had persevered for two months camped out at the foot of LA City Hall through torrential rains and heat. OccupyLA was unlike anything the city has ever seen. (See my article “Don’t be Afraid of People in Tents, Learn From Them,” in the As I write these words I am still overwhelmed with emotion thinking of the amazing community of righteousness, giving, and tolerance, crushed in one evening by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Mayor.

When news of the impending eviction of the protest reached me by text message, I rushed downtown wearing a hastily made shirt with “CLERGY” written in duck tape on the back. I intended to be there when the hammer dropped. Having served as a clergy witness at the Bank of America civil-disobedience on November 17th, I was intent on bearing witness to the end of OccupyLA.

Police had posted temporary no-parking signs on every street within three blocks of city hall. I found an all-night parking lot a half-mile away, and walked quickly to the park. People streamed in from every direction. People were already marching around the park waving signs, swelling the number of suporters of OccupyLA to what seemed like a thousand..  Starting around eight o’clock that evening, I stood with other clergy in the center of the park in a circle hoping and praying for a peaceful resolution of the impending conflict. We also offered hugs and spiritual support to those who needed it. We were a mixed interfaith group of clergy – Christians, Muslims and Jews — many who were familiar with one another from other social justice campaigns.
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