I have not been one to jump on an blog about political or social issues. A recent event near where I grew up in Southern California had brought me out of the wood work so to speak. On July 5th a subject that was apparently being arrested ended up in a physical struggle with members of the Fullerton Police Department and subsequently died. I don’t have very many of the details, only what I have read in the media and in comments of blogs. The only videos I have seen show very little if any of the actual incident but rather all of the spectators reactions. I know many of you that know me will assume that since I am a cop I will side with the cops. Well the simple fact is I have not seen enough information, I have not interviewed any witnesses, I have not reviewed the evidence, i.e. video, and audio recordings; to side with anyone about anything. Do I have concerns with what I have seen (only part of the picture)? Yes I do. Do I think it warrants an investigation? Yes I do. It’s hard to tell what is fluff and what is fact in this case because there is so much emotion attached to it.
The subject that died was a local homeless transient named Kelly Thomas. I did not know him and I am not a mental health professional. Most say he suffered from sczchophreina. Most say he was homeless because of his SMI (serious mental illness) for nearly 20 years. I have read just about everywhere that he was a kind and gentle person. I have also read that his mother had a restraining order against him because he had choked her and stripped naked then urinated on her front porch. Again, I don’t know exactly what happened that night, I wasn’t there, I haven’t reviewed all of the facts so it would be irresponsible for me to comment as to guilt or innocence. Like I said before, there are concerns that should be investigated.
Just about everything I have read has morally convicted the officers. And let’s face it that is the easy path. Our proxy guilt seeps in on situations like this and takes over. We are outraged that a mentally ill homeless person gets beat up by cops and dies. The second easiest place to assign blame is on the family. Why let their child live on the street to be cared for by nobody? That’s an easy place to point the finger too. I am of the opinion that the real blame resides with all of us, you me and everyone we know. I will get to the specific reasons for that claim in a bit. But first I need to explain a few things.
We as society have assigned police officers to deal with the things and people that we don’t want to. We have them deal with the problems that we don’t want to take care of deal with ourselves. If the neighbor is playing his music too loud, we call the police and want them to tell the neighbor to turn down their music. We have the police deal with the criminal element of society because again, we don’t want to. We have officers deal with suicidal persons because we don’t want to. We want officers to take bad guys to jail when they break the rules we make. We also have them deal with our mentally ill. Law enforcement is the gateway to the mental health industry more often than not. You may not like this or agree with it, but it is a fact and you have tasked officers to deal with your mentally ill. Many of you have even called to have them moved along from the bus bench or from the park. You get offended when they pull down their pants in public and defecate behind the 7-11 and want them “dealt with”. You, me and everyone else does not want to deal with them. We want them out of sight. We don’t want to smell them as we walk into a convenience store and they ask us for money. In essence we have asked police officers to be our garbage men. To deal with the refuse of society is the task we all have given them. Yet we harbor utter distain when officers acting as garbage men smell (figuratively) like garbage men.
In the 80’s the US Supreme Court decided that we could not keep people locked away in mental institutions against their will any longer. In order for a person to be seized against their will taken to a mental institution they must present a danger to self (DTS) or danger to others (DTO) and be mentally ill and refusing treatment. Well, they can only be kept there for a limited time without a court order to do so.
So why is this all of our faults. Because you, me and everyone else has turned our back on the mentally ill, we chose to pay our CEO’s Billions of dollars a year. We chose to pay our sports stars billions of dollars a year all the while our mental health system is underfunded by millions. We as a society have placed more value on our entertainment than treating our mentally ill. Look at our country compared to other countries. In Japan, CEO’s make 11 times what the average worker makes compared to the US were the Average CEO pay is 200 times what the average worker makes. How much do professional athletes in other countries make compared to the US? How many mentally ill live on the streets compared to the US? Yet we all sleep just fine in blissful denial of our massive problem of how we have turned our back on the mentally ill in this country. We as US citizens have decided that we want the state (government) to care for our mentally ill. We have also decided to cut funding to the programs that help treat these people. You can point your finger at the officers involved for this incident, but the root cause for this happening is our collective denial of taking care of our mentally ill. The officers will be held accountable for their actions here. But it is your guilt for how you have treated the mentally ill that fuels the fire of outrage over this incident. And if the officers are found guilty of a crime, what will change? You will still be sitting on your ass watching your flat screen TV super duper NFL game day package and expect police officers “deal” with the homeless mentally ill. So it will happen again, and you will shove the dirty secret into a corner until your guilt overcomes you again and you will voice your outrage, but we will still be standing in the same place asking the same questions. So if you want someone to blame for this incident and the thousands just like them. Look in the mirror.
As with all in death incidents, it would have been investigated. With in custody deaths they are treated like a homicide from the onset. The important thing to look for with an in custody death is cause and manner, which in this case the medical examiner was not able to determine. The most common “cause” of in custody deaths is MI (Myocardial Infarction or heart attack) this would be indicative of a subject struggling so intensely that his heart gives out. The second you would expect in a case like this is BFT (Blunt Force Trauma) from intrusive impacts delivered by the officers. Once the cause is determined they can move to the manner. Which is Homicide (death caused by another) suicide, natural or other. So until the professionals can definitively determine what caused his death everyone is just speculating.
I have seen many comments about how people can’t understand why they just couldn’t restrain him. When I see that I see a comment from a person who has never attempted to restrain a person in a full blown psychosis (SMI or drug induced). As with most things it’s not as easy as it seems. In fact the last person in a psychosis I was restraining was a 105 pound female. I weight 215 and with 33 lbs of equipment on makes 248 lbs. And she threw me off of her (and two paramedics) like we were rag dolls. She literally sent me flying. All the while she was biting big chunks meat out of her cheeks and spitting the bloody chunks out. You see she was in a psychosis and thought we were devils and were trying to destroy her. She thought by destroying her mouth she could keep us from defeating her. When dealing with SMI people in crisis or worse a full blown psychosis it is not as easy as people make it seem. Have you ever seen the orderlies at a mental facility? The look like pro football linemen. So when I hear people say how they can’t understand how it takes so many officers and tasers and such, I think the person is ignorant to the facts of life. Not ignorant as in not smart, just no experience in dealing with mentally ill persons in crisis.
As to if the officers or Kelly Thomas were right or wrong in this situation, I do not have enough information to make an educated statement. I think it needs to be investigated. I think the video needs to be reviewed as well as audio recordings and witnesses interviewed. What bothers me about the whole situation is many of the people outraged and protesting are the same people that have called the police to move along smelly SMI transients from in front of their business or from the park. I hope the guilt that drives their rage is not misplaced and they look into the root cause of this situation. I hope they have the courage to make the hard choice to finally look at how we treat our mentally ill in this country.