It’s time again to look at a year gone by, though unlike years past where I attempt to summarize the year, I will instead look at what I consider to be the story of the year. It’s not easy picking a top story for the entire year, in fact the top story of 2014 isn’t just 1 story, it’s an entire genre of news stories: Police Abuse.
For fans of Cop Block or The Free Thought Project, this is nothing new; however for tens of millions of Americans the growing number of stories about abusive police is alarming. What is more shocking, to many, is the lack of justice for those who have been harmed or even killed by police.
I could attempt to list off the countless stories of SWAT raiding the wrong house, killing dogs and people in the process. I could even cite stories of police using their supposed authority to force women into performing sexual favors. I could even list hundreds of stories about people being killed by police. Instead, I will tell you about two men who were killed by police, both of whom were begging for their life as they died: Kelly Thomas and Eric Garner.
Though Kelly Thomas was killed in 2011, his case is very relevant to 2014. It was in January of this year that his killers stood trial. Kelly Thomas was a mentally ill homeless man who lived in Fullerton, California. On the night of July 5, 2011 he was approached by Police who were responding to a report of someone vandalizing cars. Reason reports, Manuel Ramos and another officer arrived on the scene and encountered Thomas, someone whom Ramos had encountered previously. “(Thomas wasn’t breaking into any vehicles.) When he didn’t obey Ramos’ commands to put his hands on his knees, Ramos started swinging his baton at Thomas’ legs. Soon six officers, including [Jay] Cicinelli, were on the scene, crushing and pounding the unarmed man. Cicinelli later recounted that he hit Thomas’ face 20 times with a Taser.”
The LA Times reports, “When a paramedic arrived at the scene… he was told by an officer that a colleague had scratches on his arm.
After treating the officer, Fullerton Fire Department Capt. Ron Stancyk looked to his right and saw a man on the ground who was bloody, unconscious, barely breathing and handcuffed.” The bloody, unconscious, barely breathing, handcuffed man was Kelly Thomas who died 5 days later after being removed from life support.
If those details aren’t bad enough, before being beaten to the point of becoming unconscious, Thomas was asked by Ramos, “Now you see my fists?”
Thomas responded, “Yeah, what about them?”
“They are getting ready to f**k you up.”
Ramos, Cicinelli and other officers then beat Thomas for nearly 10 straight minutes. Kelly Thomas plead “I’m sorry,” in response to their calls for him to “relax,” and “stop resisting,” he responded, “I’m trying,” and in what would become his final words, he cried out for his father and begged, “Help me.”
In January of this year, a jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; and involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force, respectively. The Orange County DA dropped the charges against Joseph Wolfe. Kelly Thomas’ father Ron told reporters after the acquittal of his sons killers, “This is carte blanche to police officers to do whatever they want.”
Just over 3 years after Kelly Thomas was beaten to death, Eric Garner was choked to death by New York Police Officer, Daniel Pantaleo. Time reports, “On Aug. 1, a New York City medical examiner determined that the cause of death in the Garner case was ‘homicide,’ specifically the neck compressions from the chokehold and ‘the compression of [Garner’s] chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.’”
In December, a Grand Jury refused to indict Daniel Pantaleo.
While being choked, Eric Garner kept telling Pantaleo and the other officers involved, “I can’t breathe!” That phrase has now become synonymous with protests against police abuse, and in favor of police accountability.
Of course not everyone is supportive of holding the police accountable for their actions, claiming that only criminals need to be concerned about being victims of police abuse. To them I say, with the myriad of poorly written (and randomly enforced) laws, it’s nearly impossible to be in compliance with all of them. Even if you miraculously do so, you’re still not safe from a police officer who raids the wrong house, or simply thinks you’re doing something wrong. To quote Tom Knapp, “the only real way to guarantee an end to police violence is to bring an end to state ‘law enforcement’ — in fact, to the state itself.” Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later, because I can’t breathe!