I normally try to stay away from divisive issues here. I want my blog to be as relatable as possible to all groups of people no matter your gender, religion, race, or political beliefs. But this is something I had to speak out about.
For those of you who might not know, a verdict was passed down today in the killing of a homeless person in Orange County by police officers. Some of you may have seen the horrifying 33 minute video of Kelly Thomas being beaten to death, but if you haven’t, I actually urge you to watch it. He was not armed. Other than trying to run away once, he didn’t resist arrest. He was tased into paralysis over and over so it would be pretty humanly impossible for anyone to put up any kind of real fight, especially with 6 officers over you. On the video you can hear him crying and pleading for the officers to stop and for someone to help him. The two officers involved were found not guilty today and it broke my heart, as well as the hearts of his family I’m sure.
A lot has been said about Kelly and the officers in the span of the trial. From my perspective, what has been brought to light with the case, are not just problems within our law enforcement, but the overarching issue of how homeless people and those with mental illnesses are looked at in our society. The defense said that Kelly was “violent” and his grandmother had to take out a restraining order against him because he tried to choke her twice. Of course if you just hear that as an isolated incident, it sounds bad. But Kelly (from what I understand in what I’ve read) was also schizophrenic. For anyone who knows even a little bit about that disease, it involves extreme paranoia and often the delusion that someone is trying to kill you. For lack of a better way of putting it, you aren’t in your right mind. Of course it’s not good when someone poses a danger to others or even themselves, but if there were better measures in place for mental illness care in this country, maybe we could be taking care of each other instead of forcing one another out on the street because we don’t understand something.
The defense also said Kelly was on drugs. Maybe he was. But what people don’t often stop to think about in these situations is why. Why was he on drugs? He had a debilitating mental illness that I’m sure didn’t help. If you really look at the backgrounds of most drug users, they are victims of abuse, neglect, a broken home and about a million other things. I don’t know if people even realize how many of our homeless people are former veterans either. People who fought fearlessly for our country and incurred mental illness from the trauma or had no families to return to. The only care we give them for that effort is leaving them on the streets. Yes, there’s those people that might have just started doing drugs with perfectly normal backgrounds and healthy relationships with their parents…there’s always an exception or a gray area for these things.
But that’s not my point. How many times have you walked by a homeless person and just pretended to not see them? How many times when they’ve asked for money have you not answered or said you didn’t have any? How many times have you been told that they’ll just use the money to go buy drugs or alcohol? We’re raised to believe that homeless people are a nuisance or an inconvenience to those of us who have a home or have a job. Our society leads us to believe they aren’t even human…they’re just things or vermin even. How many times have you or someone you know referred to them as a “bum?” I’m sure at least one of your family members has said “why don’t they just get a job?” I will be the first to say I have been guilty of almost all of these. As tough as it might be to admit, it’s been hard to break out of the mental pattern I built up for so many years. I still struggle with what to do in those situations sometimes.
So no matter what you might think about what happened to Kelly Thomas, my intent in writing this blog is to hopefully encourage at least one person to step outside the normal pattern of thinking we’ve all been conditioned with and to think about the term “person” in the phrase homeless person. These are people. They had or have families. They are someone’s son, daughter, brother, or sister. Think about how you would feel in that situation. Remember that it’s not always so easy for all of us to just go out and get jobs and once you’re homeless, that’s not something you can just turn off one day, especially if you do have a mental illness. Put yourself in their shoes even for a second. I’m not even talking about giving them money or not giving them money. I’m just asking for a change in mentality. Maybe if we all started questioning the norm and changing how we see these people who are members of our society, horrific incidents like what happened with Kelly Thomas wouldn’t happen as much, or at all. Maybe more shelters would be opened. Maybe more mental health services could be offered. Maybe instead of not understanding and dismissing, we would start sympathizing. Maybe instead of shunning, we would start embracing.