This morning I read Christopher Orlet’s piece about Kelly Thomas, a 37-year old homeless man with schizophrenia from Fullerton, California who died at the hands of the local police on July 5, 2011. After reading the article, I found myself quite disturbed by its tone.
Orlet argues that the compassion of the nation towards Thomas and his family are misplaced. He writes, “Editorials, blogs, and talk shows focused on the brutal actions of the six cops. There was virtually no criticism of Thomas’s divorced parents for allowing their schizophrenic son to roam the streets.”
Well, Orlet might be content to pillory the parents. But they are not responsible for their son being beaten beyond recognition. The six Fullerton police officers – and only the six Fullerton police officers – bear that responsibility. Whatever Thomas’ criminal history, the fact of the matter is he was unarmed. Whatever criminal behavior Thomas might have engaged in that night should not have resulted in his death.
I understand that police officers risk their lives protecting us every day and there are officers who lose their lives at the hands of criminals in the course of carrying out that duty. Nevertheless, police officers are not above the written law. Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, understands this better than most. Indeed, he is a retired Orange County sheriff’s deputy which Orlet curiously does not mention.
Justice demands that these six police officers be brought to justice for their actions. Let them have their day in court. They will enter the courtroom with the presumption of innocence just like everyone else. To not prosecute these officers sends the message that the authorities are not subject to the law they enforce and erodes the confidence and trust of the public.
Now it goes without saying that homelessness is a partial consequence of the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients. They and the public have not been well served by this policy. Yet the costs of reinstitutionalization would be considerable and I question if Orlet would be prepared to support a large allocation of public expenditure in pursuit of this objective. If Orlet is not prepared to do so then he is in no position to criticize Thomas’ parents for what happened to their son.
While Orlet might believe the public reaction to Thomas’ death is a case of misplaced compassion; I believe that Orlet’s reaction to Thomas’ death is a case of misplaced blame.