On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, in an Orange County courtroom in Southern California, a jury laid to rest one of the most publicly controversial episodes of police brutality in California's troubled history. Kelly Thomas was a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who had a sometimes violent history, who was beaten by police officers of the Fullerton Police Department on July 5, 2011 while he pleaded "I can't breathe." He died from his injuries five days later, spurring protests against police brutality, a successful recall election of public officials, and a national debate about the treatment of America's homeless population.
Though ultimately removed from their jobs with the Fullerton Police Department, two of the six police officers involved in the beating were found not guilty this week of involuntary manslaughter, murder and excessive force, and another officer's case was dismissed entirely, despite a video account of the incident, the fact that there were six officers involved and Thomas was unarmed and mostly subdued, and the resulting death from his injuries at the hands of these officers. I'm usually a strong, outspoken supporter of law enforcement, and I understand the kind of pressure and danger they face on a daily basis, but this was a travesty of justice to be sure. Five shots with a taser? Six officers? Ten minutes of relentless assault on an unarmed man? What the hell was that jury thinking? Only eight hours of deliberation on whether or not to hold these officers accountable is an insult, not only to Kelly Thomas, but to America's justice system that is supposed to be blind, unbiased and especially fair to the most vulnerable among us, even when the incident occurs in one of the most conservative districts in our country. So now it's up to the civil court process to find justice for Kelly Thomas, and I wish his father the best of luck.
One of the greatest things about indie art, be it in music, film, books, etc. is the freedom to express the brutal, in-your-face and often uncomfortable inherent truth in the world around us that is all-too-often stifled in corporate entertainment out of fear of offending somebody. And few do it with more honesty and emotion than those in the punk and alternative rock music scene, which is especially vocal in California. The political and social commentary in this genre of music is what I respect most about them, and what keeps me coming back for more when faced with the often shallow alternative of mainstream music that lacks soul, heart and relevance. They make sure people like Kelly Thomas are not forgotten, that though his death was dismissed by the ones meant to protect him, justice is found in the hearts and minds of the rest of us.
"Kelly Thomas" is a heart-wrenching song by Bryan McPherson, in memory of a man who was let down by all of us when he needed us most. In the Dylan-esque style of folk punk rock, McPherson succinctly captures the anger and emotion felt by those who most closely followed the case to its bitter end.
Give it a listen, and be sure to give us your thoughts on Bryan McPherson's music and the Kelly Thomas case.
Follow Melissa Webster on Twitter: www.twitter.com/melissaswebster