November 22, 2011
Opinion: Not human enough to live
The murder of Kelly Thomas and effort to bring his murderers to justice
The facts are horrific. Video captures the brutal attack on the side of a busy street. Onlookers and passers-by don’t come to the victim’s aid. Eventually, the bruised, bleeding half-dead body is attended to by medical personnel, but it is too late. The victim dies.
No, I am not talking about the recent tragic hit-and-run of a 2-year-old Chinese girl — I am writing about the death of Kelly Thomas of Fullerton.
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.
Thomas’ beating at a bus stop was done in public. No one came to his aid. Cars and passers-by watched. The investigators interviewed 151 witnesses — yes, that is 151 people who stared, watched and did nothing — viewed seven surveillance videos and two videos recorded by witnesses on their cellphones. In addition, a recording device (all Fullerton officers wear them) attached to the leader of the assault recorded the murder in vivid detail. Two officers are being charged in his death, while four others who took part have not.
Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, is waging a relentless battle to raise awareness about his son’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 to justice the four Fullerton police officers who have yet to be charged in the Thomas murder case. In just a few days, more than 14,000 people signed a petition for justice in the murder of 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 passer-by 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 his 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
the latest to make the papers. In just a 10-day period last month, these cases made the news:
On Oct. 13, Casey Daniel Brown was sentenced 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.
On Oct. 19, in Butte, Mont., Shane Hans, 35, was charged with deliberate homicide in the killing of a homeless man, Teddy James Hildebrant.
On Oct. 23, Allen Harrell Hunter, from West Palm Beach, Fla., was arrested for the 2008 murder of a homeless man, David Roland Ulmer.
Why are homeless people targeted for such random killing? Because they are often regarded as less than human. Some of the murderers have readily admitted that they calculated no one would miss these creatures of the streets.
Thomas’ 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 grisly 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.