“To Protect and to Serve” : Kelly Thomas and us

On July 5th, 2011 Kelly Thomas was subdued and hospitalized after a confrontation with Fullerton, California police. He died at the UC Irvine Medical Center on July 10th, 2011. The confrontation was videotaped and widely played on television news and talk shows. Two of the police officers involved were charged with involuntary manslaughter; in addition, one of them was also charged with second degree murder and the other with assault under cover of authority.

Their trial began on December 2nd, 2013 and on January 13th, 2014 a jury found them not guilty on all charges.

But the story does not end here.

Kelly Thomas’ father will go ahead with his lawsuit against the officers and the FBI will investigate to see if there is cause for the federal government to get involved. One of the officers has said he will try to get his job with the Fullerton PD back. The DA may run into re-election trouble. Life goes on.

Many of us refuse to go along with a jury verdict when that verdict does not run parallel with our own thinking. Twelve average and ordinary citizens listened to all of the evidence presented by both sides in this case and decided that the defendants were not guilty of the charges brought against them. But, many disagree and between civil lawsuits and possible federal civil rights lawsuits we’ll subject these officers to “double jeopardy” under the guise of justice.

We don’t take up our quest for “justice” with a gun; we use a lawyer instead.

Deadly Force

I think, however, that there is a larger issue here than the guilt or innocence of these police officers – the issue of police involved violence.

Is there no training for police in the use of non-lethal means to control suspects? Must police go for their guns or dog-pile a suspect to arrest him? I can understand the use of deadly force when a suspect is confirmed to have a gun and has used, or threatens to use it. But otherwise – no, NO, NO!

Mentally ill guy on the street – Kelly Thomas (?), possibly on drugs – six policemen struggle to subdue him. Is someone during the struggle going to lose it? Probably – it’s only human nature. What to do instead? Talk to him without threatening him or shouting and escalating things; wait for a supervisor to arrive and take a net out of a police car trunk and throw it over the guy if necessary. Surely there is room for a net in the police car (and the training to use it during the time an officer spends in the police academy)? Let him get tangled up and exhaust himself; don’t beat him to death.

Suspect comes at an officer with a knife – what to do? Pull out a gun and put five or six bullets into him? No – pull out a nightstick/billy club and disable him, but don’t kill him; surely police are still trained to use such traditional weapons as billy clubs (aren’t they?).

Suspect reaches into a pocket; it’s a gun – several shots from two police officers later the suspect is dead – no gun, just a cell phone beside the body.

How many stories have we seen in the last few years of people dying after confrontations with police which involved “look-alike” guns or objects which officers thought were guns but weren’t? How many stories involved police shooting at vehicles and people and hitting them multiple (many, many) times? And, how many of these incidents involved innocent people thought by police to be someone else?

We seem to have become a society which goes for the “nuclear option” first. We arm our police with pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. What about arming them with common sense and a bit more regard for their fellow-man?

Protect

During the 1950s Officer Joseph S. Dorobek submitted “To Protect and to Serve” as the motto for the Los Angeles Police Academy. It has since become the motto for the Los Angeles Police Department and, in many minds, the motto for all police.

Protect – I looked up the word on Google and got the following:

verb
verb: protect; 3rd person present: protects; past tense: protected; past participle: protected; gerund or present participle: protecting
1.
keep safe from harm or injury.
“he tried to protect Kelly from the attack”

synonyms: keep safe, keep from harm, save, safeguard, preserve, defend, shield, cushion, insulate, hedge, shelter, screen, secure, fortify, guard, watch over, look after, take care of, keep

I see nothing here about shooting first and asking questions later. Train police to use common sense and brain power first; use deadly force, or the threat of it, only as a last resort.

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