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.


The Economics of Generosity: A Homeless Man’s Advice to Restaurateurs

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If you want your restaurant to prosper, give free food to the homeless. This is according to the anecdotal evidence put forward by my homeless friend Yehuda. Yehuda has been on the streets for five years in Los Angeles and can can’t shake a heroin addiction. He lives on small change from kind souls … and restaurants. Yehuda once had a thriving window dressing business and a million friends. Today he depends on people’s leftovers and meals from generous restaurants for his fare.

Yehuda taught me this important lesson when a recently opened, kosher-certified, national franchise shut down, much to the surprise of the neighborhood. The story followed an arc that Yehudah had seen before.

Yehudah began approaching the new fast-food sandwich shop that had opened on his regular stretch of road. They were generous with Yehuda, offering him a sandwich as much as once a day. The food went a long way to sustaining him, and a few other homeless Jews who call Pico-Robertson home.

The new gleaming store was packed the first few months. But as time went on, the crowds became thinner. Eventually, the free sandwiches became less and less frequent. The worse business got, the more they resented him. Soon they stopped giving him food. Within months the restaurant had closed its doors. A successful national franchise, on a popular restaurant block, with special kosher certification, was now a thing of memory.

If this were one isolated case, it would not prove anything. But it was not.

Over the course of these five years, Yehudah has seen other restaurants come and go. The same pattern of generosity followed by hostility accompanied the downfall of all those restaurants. There was one place that chased him out with a broom — they were closed within a month. It didn’t matter that Yehudah warned them against treating the homeless this way. He warned them that their tight fist, would be their downfall. But who is going to listen to a junkie homeless man for business advice? Nobody it seems.

One of the businessmen that didn’t treat Yehudah well, who subsequently opened a new shop after his latest one failed, began to see that Yehudah had a point. He started giving Yehudah food every day. Whenever Yehudah stopped by, he was sure to walk away with something fresh to eat. Yehuda said the business was booming.

I went to check this out for myself.

Passing by this establishment for the last six months, I can attest that the place is thriving. Customers line up for food. They run out of product all the time. The owner is happy, and the business, even in these times when small restaurants are really hurting, is thriving.

Restaurants often chase the homeless away, instead of inviting them to the backdoor for a warm meal. We, the customers, loathe their pan-handling when we are trying to have a coffee with friends. We resent them for interfering with our plans to go and get something to eat, and for making us feel guilty. Let someone else give them a hand, I have heard said too many times.

Prosperity is not deserved, but is a blessing bestowed by God. The Torah teaches that when a person puts out his or her hand, it is a commandment to fill it. Therefor it is not surprising that the Torah’s economic principles can be a lesson to us all. Generosity begets blessing.

Hopefully, someday soon, our MBA students will learn about the economics of generosity, and restaurants that want to have a fighting chance, will adopt Yehuda’s simple business plan.

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