Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Commentary: The Kelly Thomas Affair

FULLERTON - I cannot remember the last time a court verdict made me angry and utterly depressed. Even the outcome of recent high-profile criminal trials have not made me rise to this level. The words "Not Guilty" felt like a bomb heard around the World.   

In the Casey Anthony trial and even the Trayvon Martin trial I can see how and why a jury, after examining all the evidence presented in the trial, came to "Not Guilty" verdicts as reasonable doubt was raised. In the Kelly Thomas case all the evidence showed and presented during the trial, from the videotape to medical experts, clearly shows these disgraced officers were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the first couple hours after the verdict was read in a Santa Ana courtroom I had to restrain myself from going on social media and saying some choice words.

It is a day later and I am still not calmed down, and there is a reason I am feeling this way.

A few years back I was hanging around the downtown areas of Fullerton and Anaheim, and Kelly Thomas was somebody I knew from around. Of course we were not good friends, or really any kind of friends in any sense of the word, but when we would see each other we would talk. 

Mr. Thomas had his problems, but if you have ever dealt with somebody battling a mental illness it is not easy. I attempted to get Mr. Thomas the help he needed when I would see him, and in fact even drove him once to an Orange County mental health center in Anaheim on Katella Avenue and State College Boulevard.

Having known and dealt with Mr. Thomas it is hard not to take this case personally. Of course a lot of people have taken this case personally for many reasons. 

It may not seem like it, but trust me when I say that I have tried to look at this case against these disgraced Fullerton police officers as objectively as possible, and even viewed it through the lends of law enforcement. Despite Mr. Thomas' problems in communicating with police, there was no justification for why he had to die. This was a blatant abuse of power by law enforcement, and they got away with it.

In the immediate aftermath of this verdict I know there is anger and some soul searching.

I know the words "travesty of justice" gets thrown around often without much thought, but the Kelly Thomas case really is a travesty of justice. As emotions grow strong we must realize there is no turning back the verdict. As we process this we should, when the shock and anger calms down, begin to come up with realistic suggestions on how to deal with the homeless and mentally challenged, and how us as a community can work to make their life better. 

Perhaps consider becoming an advocate for those dealing with mental challenges. A lot of times they need a voice in the darkness to help guide them. It is not easy to be sure, but their life is a little better because you are there for them. Now if Mr. Thomas had somebody looking out for him would it of helped, well, I can tell from my experience with him it helped for a moment.

The change starts with us in our communities. In many protests it is often chanted, "fight the power," well, instead of "fighting the power" we can become the power and create change. We the people have the power to sit on police commissions, become lawyers, teachers and community activists. 

We also need to better advocate changes in how law enforcement deals with the homeless and mentally challenged.

There are many ways to help change your community so that we do not have to deal with something like this again. "They" don't have the power, we have the power. Remember, even though it may not always seem like it and it is difficult, "they" answer to us.  

Also, as a side note, while it may be annoying, you may want to reconsider throwing away that jury duty notice.

Remember, we are the change and we are the power.

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