“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?


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: protect; 3rd person present: protects; past tense: protected; past participle: protected; gerund or present participle: protecting
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.

Obama and Syria – more Violence and another War?

President Obama wishes to use the armed forces of the United States to punish Syria and its president, Bashar Assad, for using poison gas on its own people. Once again America’s leader(s) are preparing to use military force against another sovereign nation far away from our own borders.

I would guess that this is not too surprising as this nation was born during a world war – the Second Hundred Years’ War, which lasted from about 1689 to 1815. It was fought on land and sea and spanned the oceans of the world. During this war we became independent, invaded Canada, fought naval battles in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean and landed forces in North Africa. During the next century, we fought wars to span the American continent, annexed a third of Mexico and, in emulation of France, Great Britain and Germany violently established an “American Empire” with holdings in the far Pacific, Central America and the Caribbean. We also put down an internal rebellion at the cost of 600,000 dead.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we have fought two major world wars, several “limited” proxy wars with the USSR and China and been involved in many other conflicts. Some of these conflicts have been justified because others have attacked us (Pearl Harbor and 9/11) and others (Grenada and Tonkin Gulf), maybe not. Reasons and perceptions vary, but in every case, violence and death were the result.

Ancient Assyria and Persia, Alexander and Trajan, Gustavus Adolphus and Wellington, all would recognize our actions, reasons and rationalizations as those of an imperial power working to safeguard itself and to extend its influence. We are, and have been since our inception, an imperial power. We do not, however, acknowledge that we are such. We acknowledge it neither to others nor to ourselves and our children. We are the good guys. We defend the underdog. We are not Assyria or Rome; our leaders are not like Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III or Caesar and Nero.

Really? How many people have died as a result of our actions? How much good have we really done? How many places have we fought to establish “Truth, Justice and the American Way” only to have them turn to ashes?

Perhaps it is time to pull back from the brink and re-think about what we are doing,

Perhaps it is time to practice what we preach to ourselves and our children.

Perhaps we should not attempt to be the world’s policeman and moral guardian.

Perhaps Imperium is not for us.

Perhaps Mr. Obama is having second thoughts and hopes Congress will stop him from crying “Havoc,” and letting slip the dogs of war once again.

Perhaps we should support our troops by bringing them home.

Perhaps. Perhaps. And, then again, perhaps.