The Journey to Fullerton: Standing by Ron Thomas

August 12 - I don't live in Fullerton. I don't have friends in Fullerton. In fact, as far as I know, I've never knowingly been to Fullerton, unless Interstate 5 bisects Fullerton on the way to Disneyland.

Fullerton may only be 35 miles from my home, but if you had asked me a couple of months ago what I know about Fullerton, I would have said that it's the location of one of the Cal State campuses. That's pretty much it.

Today, I'd answer that Fullerton is the city where mentally ill drifter Kelly Thomas was brutally beaten to death by the Fullerton police. Sure, I understand that there's a lot more to Fullerton. It probably is a great place to live and raise kids, especially if you have the annual Disneyland pass. But Fullerton is also the place where an unarmed Kelly Thomas, after being tazered and beaten by up to six burly police officers, uttered his last words on this planet: a plea to his father to stop the sustained beating.

By the time the beating did stop, Kelly was in a coma; a few days later it was his heart that stopped beating. His father Ron Thomas, a former sheriff's deputy in Orange County, never had the opportunity to respond to his son's desperate pleas. He will never again be able to talk to his son. Never be able to watch a ballgame with him. Never be able simply to hug him and tell him how much he loves him. Never.

Because Kelly Thomas was tasered and beaten to death by six policemen. And all Ron Thomas can do now is to try to secure justice for his dead son. All Ron Thomas can do now is to try to make sure that the other Kelly Thomases of Fullerton are given the help they need rather than suffer Kelly's fate.

One would think that solidarity with Ron Thomas would be universal. One would think that solidarity with Ron Thomas would certainly be second nature to those of us who have children and who have ever responded to our children's cries of "Dad" or "Mom," no matter how serious or trivial the situation may have been. There is something so indescribably touching about a child in need calling for their parent, no matter how old either may be. And there is something so indescribably tragic when that parent isn't able to help their child.

The voice of Kelly Thomas crying out for his father, which was captured on video, is something Ron Thomas will have to live with until his dying day. As the father of a four-year-old boy, I have immeasurable empathy and sympathy for Mr. Thomas. And while I don't share his military background, I completely understand his military-like march towards justice. It's probably the only thing that keeps him ticking right now. It's probably the only thing he feels he can still do for his boy.

It's simply astonishing that OC Register columnist David Whiting could consider the widespread outrage over Kelly Thomas's death to be an example of "mob rule." Whiting seriously tries to hide behind legal formalia in suggesting that the public outcry for justice is nothing more than an unfair rush to judgment. Where can Whiting's self-righteous callousness possibly come from? Is this just a misguided case of "my city right or wrong"? Whatever the answer, you can almost just imagine where he would have been when Mississippi was burning. Or after Pearl Harbor. "Let's just wait for the facts, everyone. This might have been a mistake. Innocent until proven guilty."

Kelly Thomas's beating death is hardly a case of nuances. It's clear that Kelly Thomas's death should never have happened. I feel confident in saying that it couldn't, wouldn't happen in my town. No way, no how. There's too much mutual respect between our own police and our residents. But bad people can turn up in all walks of life and in many guises. The plain and simple fact is that this kind of needless police brutality shouldn't be happening anywhere. That's the point Mr. Whiting, and you are missing the point if you're suggesting people should not be outraged by Kelly Thomas's death. You're missing the point if you're suggesting that people should not demand swift and meaningful action. You're missing the point if you're suggesting that people should withhold judgment, because maybe -- just perhaps maybe -- there is some scenario in which Kelly Thomas's death, however sad, was in any way justified. There isn't. It's just that simple. Affirmatively making these statements, however, in no way means that true justice can't or won't be served.

Yes, let the investigation take its course, let it unearth the details and apportion blame, but please start, Mr. Whiting, by acknowledging from the outset that Kelly Thomas's beating death should never have happened. Period. Instead of knocking those who want justice, focus on holding those responsible who were responsible. And if the powers-that-be are dragging their feet, then don't just be a mouthpiece for the Fullerton Insiders' Club. Use your bully pulpit instead to kick start the wheels of justice, effect meaningful reform, comfort those in need of comforting and let the sunshine in. One doesn't need to be Al Pacino in And Justice for All to understand that "Something really wrong is going on here."

I wish there were something I could do to help Mr. Thomas in his quest for justice for Kelly. Perhaps if we all stand with him, show our disgust at the situation and demand justice, the decision-makers will take action, even if their natural instincts might be to do nothing. Unfortunately, publicly elected DAs in our state don't seem to have a great record when it comes to prosecuting police. Seems to have something to do with wanting various police organizations' support when running for office. Is it any wonder that the only person not being prosecuted in the City of Bell scandal is former police chief Randy Adams? Yeah, he's the guy who got the $457,000 a year salary and who made a deal with Rizzo to stipulate that his eventual retirement would be on disability (which means that 50% of his fat pension will be tax free).

Maybe DA candidates feel it's kinda tough to project a "tough on crime" image without the support of the public safety unions and other groups. On the other hand, isn't it hard to project an aura of fairness or "equal justice," when you don't prosecute bad cops for political reasons? A DA who refuses to prosecute bad cops isn't doing the overall force any favors either: by lumping all cops together and placing them above the law, not prosecuting bad cops also reflects negatively on all the good ones, by far the huge majority of our public safety officers. Letting bad cops get away with criminal activity also unnecessarily undermines the public trust in the integrity of our police forces.

The information available from Fullerton doesn't exactly infuse one with confidence. How can the public have confidence that justice is being served when the Fullerton police department allows the cops involved in the Kelly Thomas beating access to the surveillance video of the incident which is not being released to the general public? It's not being released to the general public supposedly because the powers-that-be are concerned that it will improperly influence witnesses. Yet it's OK to let the cops involved in the beating see the video in order to "jog their memories"? Would the police ever let multiple suspects in a crime have access to a surveillance video and then, perhaps, coordinate their accounts of the incident? How is this not an egregious double-standard? Is it any wonder that the eyes of southern California are on Fullerton?

No, I don't live in Fullerton and I don't represent Fullerton, and as an elected official from another city you might say I should mind my own business and stick to stuff going on in my own backyard. Goodness knows, we have enough going on here. But this isn't just about Fullerton. This isn't just about Ron Thomas. Kelly Thomas could have been any one of our sons, yours or mine. This is about all of us.

Many people seem to recognize this, which probably explains the growing crowds at the weekly "Kelly Thomas - Rally for justice" in front of the Fullerton Police Department. These rallies have been going on for the past few Saturdays and are planned "until further notice." Perhaps until Ron Thomas finally gets true justice for his boy.

I don't live in Fullerton. I don't have friends in Fullerton. I've never been to Fullerton. But I'll be there standing next to the crowds who instinctively know that it is wrong for a gentle, mentally ill man to be brutally beaten to death by the same police who should be protecting all of us. As a father who loves his boy, I'll be there to stand next to Ron Thomas, the father who couldn't help his own boy when he needed it the most and whose boy's last words were the haunting cries of "Dad, Dad, Dad."