Cops walk who beat Kelly Thomas to death: Welcome to our world


by Thandisizwe Chimurenga

'Vengeance for Kelly Thomas' posterHomeless and schizophrenic. Two words that, for me, conjure up one word: vulnerable. The kind of person who, when Jesus Christ says “the least of these,” means a person who should be protected. Kelly Thomas, 37 years old, mentally ill and “living” on the streets of Fullerton, Calif., was one such person.

But Kelly Thomas experienced the exact opposite of protection. Sickeningly and horrifyingly, Kelly Thomas was set upon and beaten to death in July 2011 by men who, in a perfect society, should have been his protectors. Kelly Thomas was murdered by law enforcement, and this society’s legal system has now set his murderers free. The reason for this is very simple: Kelly Thomas was a castaway. In short, Kelly Thomas was “niggerized.”

Welcome to my world.

Philosopher and critic Cornel West stated more than 10 years ago that people of African descent in this country have long known what it is like to feel “unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hatred for who they are” and that following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government’s relentless erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security led to an “unaccustomed sense of collective intimidation for far too many Americans.” Thus, said West, whether or not they were of African descent, all Americans had now been “niggerized” by those attacks.


Kelly Thomas’ life was expendable. It no longer held any value to the state. Even the privilege of proximity to law enforcement, which in this society normally would have extended to him via his father, a former Orange County (Calif.) sheriff’s deputy, did not save him. (Witnesses stated that Kelly Thomas cried out for his father 31 times during the 30-minute attack that led to his death: “Dad help me … They’re killing me.”)

Kelly Thomas' mother Cathy Thomas 'Justice for Kelly' by Chris VictorioKelly’s parents, Ron and Cathy, were understandably shocked and angered by the jury’s verdict. No parent should endure what they have had to go through. Only the hardest of hearts can view the picture of Kelly Thomas lying unconscious in a hospital bed and not be taken aback by what Fullerton police did to him.

But as a Black woman born and raised in the U.S., to hear Ron Thomas declare, “What this means is that all of us need to be very afraid now … Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, do whatever they want because it was proven here today they can get away with it,” I automatically want to ask him where has he been? But I also automatically know the answer to that question: He’s been here all along with everybody else whose white skin privilege has shielded them from the terrorism of the police.

When I hear Cathy Thomas exclaim, “They got away with murdering my son,” I can only think of how Wanda Johnson said the same thing about her child, Oscar Grant, three and a half years ago.

During the trial of his murderers, the defense argued that Kelly Thomas died not as a result of a brutal assault but due to an enlarged heart from drug abuse, even bringing up Thomas’ drug use as a 15-year-old to underscore their point. And as a bonus, the defense said that Thomas was violent, once even attacking his own family members.

Kelly Thomas was put on trial right alongside of those who murdered him. Black folks know all about that. Just ask the parents of Trayvon Martin.

In a perfect world, the government and those who enforce its laws, i.e. “law enforcement,” would have protected Kelly Thomas, made sure that he had the basic necessities of life, and that his right to life would have been respected. But Kelly Thomas didn’t live in that kind of society. Kelly Thomas lived in a society where value is placed on the whiteness of a person’s skin and what they can produce via their labor. In a white supremacist society such as the U.S., Kelly Thomas’ white skin privilege had been “sullied” by his social location and his mental illness. It could not save him.

Oscar Grant's mom Wanda Johnson 'My son was murdered' 070810 by KTVUFor the most part in the U.S., homelessness does not conjure up images of hard-working people who have sold their labor to another in order to have the basic necessities of life and then, one or two or a series of missteps means that they have lost their homes, their security and thus they find themselves living on the street: In this country, homelessness conjures up images of filthy, unkempt, smelly and “dangerous people” who, as a result of their own actions – or inactions – are pretty much SOOL (shit out of luck).

Schizophrenia, a form of mental illness that affects about 1 percent of the United States population, is said by the National Institute of Mental Health to be “a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder …” whereby some persons “may hear voices other people don’t hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated.”

Persons with such an affliction as schizophrenia will, more than likely, not be able to hold a job or maintain personal relationships for long. Thus, unable to “be productive” (sell their labor) or maintain family ties that can assist with their care and treatment, many schizophrenics find themselves living on the streets in cities across the United States. The existence of a safety net that could care for them or, in the alternative, provide substantive support and relief for their families and loved ones who want to care for them has been greatly weakened.

And now, because of this “sullying,” this “niggerization” of their child, the Thomases now feel the similar pain of far too many Black and Brown parents who have lost their children to police terrorism.

They have now entered into our world.

The jettisoning of civil liberties that has occurred since 9/11 alluded to by West, coupled with the continuing attacks on a social safety net that can catch “the least of these” and an increasingly reactionary political agenda administered from the highest levels of government strongly suggest that there will be many more Kelly Thomases. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Police terrorism is a national crisis in the United States. A national movement against the police murder of all people – Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, White, Purple – is desperately needed in this country. Respect for the dignity and human rights of those who walk or drive the streets – or sleep in them – must be made manifest from coast to coast. The lack of accountability and privilege afforded to law enforcement nationwide simply has to come to an end.

The lack of accountability and privilege afforded to law enforcement nationwide simply has to come to an end.

A movement such as this must be built. And it can. Among other things, it will need for those who have had the protection of the state extended to them because of white skin privilege to renounce that privilege and see it for what it is: a ruse that continuously turns white folks against their own self-interest.

What a wonderful world this would be.

Thandisizwe Chimurenga is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. She is a long-time community activist and the author of “No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant.” She can be reached via her website,, where this story first appeared.



  1. Although I send my heartfelt regrets to the parents and families of these murdered children and abhor the actions of the people who are supposed to keep the members of society safe I can't help but say that the illusion of safety is just that for women. We aren't safe anywhere…

  2. This is absolutely vile, nothing short of police brutality, how on earth they have walked free without charge is absolutely beyond me. And agreed Adria – how are you meant to feel safe at all after reading articles like this. Sickening! Great for raising awareness

  3. This one one of the ugliest and sad police brutality videos I've had the displeasure of seeing.
    What a pathetic shame the cops went that far. I'm astounded they walked away without any kind of prosecution. What a sad joke. = (

  4. Kelly Thomas’ murder-by-cop was NOT about the mental health system (albeit it’s decrepit) and It’s NOT about Homelessness (in a state that still ascribes to Woody Guthrie’s ministrations about money in Do Re Me). We can ALWAYS count on the NGOs to suck, like vampires, the government and private money that can be garnered from social tragedies like this to fund their bloated payrolls.

    Kelly Thomas’ death IS about the all-too-cozy Corporatist relation between California’s municipal police departments and their city’s business/commercial property interests.

    If you or I had called the police about a non-emergency the police WOULD CERTAINLY have visited us first to ascertain/confirm what the dispatcher told them is fact. That DID NOT HAPPEN.

    Because of that most-likely common omission in what IS Standard Police Operating Procedure, a business lied to keep a “Creepy guy who looks like Jesus Christ” from hanging around NEAR (not on) their property, and Kelly Thomas died.

    Someone from a local bar’s staff called police and told them, at the behest of the bar’s manager, that Kelly Thomas was “Tampering with cars”. He was doing no such thing. He was doing what poor people who smoke often do… picking up cigarette butts in the gutter (known as ‘sniping).

    It may be noted that NO ONE at the business who lied to the police causing the death of an INNOCENT HARMLESS person has ever been charged with a crime no less arrested for either lying to the police… Interfering with a police investigation, or indeed, CULPABILITY for Kelly Thomas’ death.

    THAT is the SECOND travesty of justice in Kelly Thomas’ death, and unlike the reason why Thomas’ beating may have happened (and Ramos’ “see these fists” statement appears to imply intent), the lack of charges against the business seems to be ABSOLUTELY intentional.

    Note that a suit has been filed about this. Perhaps the first volley in a war against Corporatist “Special Friends” of the local police department, “Official (un-bonded) Complainants”, and other business related outcroppings of what can only be described as a Mussolini Fascist method of social control to protect business profits and the gentrification of business districts, districts that often don’t even sell anything local residents need, across California, and indeed the United States.

    Just the idea of police favoritism towards business/property interests offends me. It should for anyone who believes in Democracy.

  5. You know what I learned? Bad people are everywhere. The rules are bullshit. And anger destroys. You and me were meant for greater things, we were created by God and have powers untapped. Don't let the bastards get you down, lift up the weak, and blunt the cruelty of nature. I don't like the racist nature of this web site, I'm white. But damn, wounds are open, and cannot be ignored.

  6. Malcom x stated the police serve domestically the same interest soldiers do internationally protecting plutocrats corporate America and all the possess at our expense. If the police are found wrong then the entire system is wrong,i worked for the California Highway Patrol for 20 years as a maintenance person more than one peace officer in confidence told me many were on the force for the wrong reasons, that they just wanted to kick ass and beat a person up. Do yah think?

  7. Although I send my heartfelt regrets to the parents and families of these murdered children and abhor the actions of the people who are supposed to keep the members of society safe I can't help but say that the illusion of safety is just that for women. We aren't safe anywhere.
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