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Jewish Journal

Kelly Thomas: No Justice in Life or in Death

by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

January 14, 2014 | 9:27 am

Pictures of Kelly Thomas sometime before the murder.

*WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE*

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.

*WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW*

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.

*WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW* Kelly Thomas before and after the murder.

 

 

 

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