Not Human Enough to Live: The Murder of Kelly Thomas and Effort to Bring his Murderers to Justice

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The facts are horrific. Video capture the brutal attack on the side of a busy street. Onlookers and passerby don’t come to the victims aid. Eventually, the bruised, bleeding half-dead body is attended to by medical personal, but it is all but too late. The victim dies.

No, I am not talking about the tragic hit and run of a two year-old Chinese girl – I am writing about the death of Kelly Thomas of Fullerton, California.

Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man, was brutally beaten by six Fullerton police officers on July 5. Yes, on-duty police. They then tried to cover up the murder. Thomas was beloved, not abandoned, but mental illness kept him on the streets.

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 assualt, which all Fullerton officers wear, recorded the murder in vivid detail. Two officers are being charged in his death, four others that took part have not.

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, is waging 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. And it’s working. Residents of Fullerton are taking their city council to task and the FBI is now investigating the crime. Fullerton just set up a task force in the wake of the murder to look for ways to improve the plight of the homeless in Fullerton.

Paul Orloff, a Fullerton resident, has launched a Change.org campaign to bring the four Fullerton police officers who have yet to be charged in the Kelly Thomas murder case to justice. In just a few days, more that 14,000 people signed a petition for justice in the murder of Kelly Thomas.

While the world gasped in horror at the death of the Chinese girl, in America we walk by the legions of homeless who lie motionless on the side of the street every day.

We are numb to the facts: hundreds of thousands of them call the streets their home every night. They sleep over subway grates, in alleyways and doorways. As the economy worsens, the numbers on the street are increasing.

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 is just the latest to make the papers. Just in the last week, these cases made the news:

On October 23rd, Allen Harrell Hunter, from West Palm Beach man was arrested for the 2008 murder of a homeless man David Roland Ulmer

On Oct. 19th, in Butte, Montanta, Shane Hans, 35, was charged with deliberate homicide in the killing of a homeless man, Teddy James Hildebrant, in Butte overnight Tuesday.

On October 13th, Casey Daniel Brown was sentenced Wednesday by Sacramento County Superior Court for the second-degree murder of 68-year-old Bernice Nickson, a homeless woman who approached him at a bus stop.

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 ready admitted that they calculated that no one would miss these people.

Kelly Thomas’s tragic life and death are causing one city to move forward and continue the soul-searching needed to work on the issue of 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.


2 Comments

  1. James

    10/26/2011 at 1:34 pm

    I lived in Berkeley in the late 1970s when the law changed that resulted in the release of hundreds of chronically mentally ill people from large, state run mental hospitals to “community treatment”. At the time, it was felt that keeping a significant population of chronically mentally ill adults incarcerated by the state for years or even decades was violating their civil rights. It was believed that they would be better served in community-run halfway houses and other programs where they weren’t kept isolated from mainstream society.

    The community systems were overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the demand for services, plus without the kind of supervision inpatient facilities offer, many of the mentally ill simply failed to comply with taking medications, housing plans, and other services and became part of the homeless population you see on the streets of many California cities to this day. Unless a mentally ill person is an immediate danger to themselves or others, law enforcement cannot take them into custody for evaluation and possible inpatient treatment and even if that criteria is met, the mentally ill person must be released within 72 hours of incarceration, unless it is established that they remain a danger.

    Thus the streets of Berkeley, Oakland, Los Angeles, Fullerton and many more cities continue to have a large group of homeless mentally ill adults. Outpatient and community services cannot be forced upon the individual. Many mentally ill adults are assisted in independent or semi-independent living with a lot of wrap around community services, but there are many others who will be homeless, in part, because their illness prevents them from making choices that are in their best interest. They “choose” to be homeless rather than take medications and live by the rules imposed by community shelters or similar programs. The only alternative to homelessness for some would be to involuntarily lock them back up in state hospitals again.

    That means there will always been a population of homeless mentally ill adults. That means they will always be at risk. What would have prevented Kelly Thomas’s death? Better police training? Making sure all homeless mentally ill persons are involuntarily confined for their own safety? I don’t know. I don’t know that Kelly Thomas was murdered pending the verdict of a court of law since, emotionalism aside, the officers involved, like any other citizens, are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It wouldn’t be the first time law enforcement unjustly assaulted and killed a disadvantaged person, but we must, as a nation, grant accused police officers the same rights as anyone else, lest we become as lawless as we believe the Fullerton police officers may have been.

    At the drop of an unjust hat, people create websites and committees and cry for change but what are we willing to do to bring about change and do we have the faintest idea what form of change should actually occur? What change specifically will save the life of the next Kelly Thomas? I wish I knew. I wonder of anyone who is looking for justice in this matter knows? In the midst of the hue and cry, it would be nice to have a real answer that could be put in place and that would actually work to save someone’s life.

  2. jpeditor

    11/1/2011 at 3:21 am

    ” it would be nice to have a real answer that could be put in place and that would actually work to save someone’s life.”

    Yes, buit that would run counter to this website’s mission, to whine and complain and agitate for more “progressive” government action funded by more and more taxes to put more and more jino social workers on the govt payroll filling out forms and NOT HELPING HARDLY ANYONE.

    Want an example? WATCH the UJ Federations doing virtually NOTHING CONCRETE to help the thousands of Jews out of work – they are too busy raising money for arab villages in “palestine”.

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