Kelly Thomas death, and the acquittal of police officers involved, led to a peaceful protest which turned violent Saturday. What started as a demonstration against the verdict exonerating two former California law enforcement officers turned violent as someone assaulted a television camerawoman. Police reports say that multiple arrests were made during the protest.
While the majority of those protesting were peaceful, it took turned violent when some took control of intersections, blocked traffic and destroyed businesses. The largest part of the group carried signs and chanted.
Video shown on KCBS-TV shows an individual with a bandana hiding their face, striking the camera woman. Seeking shelter in the news van with the remainder of the news crew, they called 911 when protesters gathered outside the vehicle.
The assault motivated the police to term the rally an illegal assembly and officers dressed in riot gear responded. At least 10 people were arrested for not following orders to disperse. In addition to the assault suspect were two others who defaced a police vehicle with obscenities and anarchist symbols.
Prior to the peaceful protest, Thomas’ father expressed his appreciation to marchers at a gathering outside the Fullerton Police Department. He stated that without their rallies in July and August 2011, the case involving his son might not have gone to trial. He went on to tell the gathering that they were the people that made the trial happen. Many in the city didn’t believe he city’s attorney had any intention of putting the officers on trial until public pressure grew.
Kelly Thomas died less than a week after a savage encounter with six members of law enforcement in July 2011. Thomas was seen on video, captured by a building security camera, as he screamed and begged for air as the police tased him, kneed him and used the electronic stun gun to repeatedly hit him at multiple points on his head.
The protests were organized by homeless advocates following the acquittal of police officers in Thomas’ death. Hoping to encourage the Federal Bureau of Investigation to step in, the organizers took to social media, calling for everyone to join the demonstration.
The noise and violence in the street Saturday was in stark contrast to the subdued atmosphere in the courtroom earlier last week when the jury foreman read the verdicts. As the foreman repeated “No Guilty” four times, a collective gasp, followed by tears and shock mixed with laughter.
The defense attorney tried, in January 2013, to get the judge to drop the charges. The judge refused, saying, “a reasonable person could infer that the use of force was excessive and unreasonable.”
Medical records show that Thomas had choked on his own blood in addition to the broken bones in his head and face. The coroner also said that Thomas’ voice box had been squeezed so tightly that it was impossible for Thomas to breathe and his brain was oxygen starved.
After the verdict last week, several dozen protesters gathered on the grass across from the courthouse entrance and remained peaceful. A similar size group gathered at the transit center where Kelly Thomas was beaten. No arrests were made at either location immediately following the end of the trial.
Saturday though, a peaceful protest in support of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man, turned violent.
By Jerry Nelson