The trial of two Fullerton, California, police officers accused in the excessive force death of Kelly Thomas, began yesterday. The court trial will attempt to determine if Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were guilty of using excessive force and manslaughter in an incident that took place on July 5, 2011. The victim, Kelly Thomas, surely presented a sympathetic character to the public. He was White (c’mon, it’s true), he was frail, he was mentally imbalanced, his father was a retired cop, and he was guilty of little other than being a belligerent asshole. You can be detained, even arrested, for that, but it is hardly a capital offense. One of the officers was Hispanic, a fact I touched upon in this post in September of that year. Prosecutors will try to paint Kelly Thomas as an aggressive, violent man with the “dangerous” history of drug abuse, and the defense will rely on the putative public opinion that Thomas was a physically harmless, deranged madman who could have easily been detained by the two large cops without the theatrics and fireworks which resulted in his death five days after the incident at a local hospital.
I ran across this photo of Kelly Thomas today while reading online news clips, and though there are some ways it is differs, it reminded me of the infamous Hank Williams, Sr., black and white jail picture.
Shirtless, cowboy hat, on a quick trip to perdition and oblivion.
In this photo, Thomas is not emaciated nor ridden with tuberculosis, but traces of his history of schizophrenia and drug abuse seem etched in the absent stare that does not really look at you, much in the same way Williams’ forlorn eyes seem to burrow vacantly into your living breath. I think of these two men as similar crestfallen characters in a tragic stage where the script was written long before they could put their fingers on just what the hell it was that had fucked their lives up so tidily. A common script which spelled unhappiness and despair and which ultimately, foretold a despondent fate.
Hank Williams, Sr., was a drug addict, an alcoholic, a fighter, and he had “interactions” with police and spent lamentable nights in jail, but he lived to sing about his mired existence and proved to be an American icon. A poet of depravity. Seems that in his day, police shrugged at the personal calamities of madness and disarray, or at least possessed enough stoic mastery that prevented them from inflicting torture on the weak.
Thomas, hardly a poet, but a doomed run-of-the mill suburban homeless individual with nothing to threaten, was the modern invisible poet of anonymity and he died at the hands of modern police thugs. Corporatist 21st Century police groomed on a steady diet of violence and trivialization of life, happy to pummel the defenseless into the ground.
Hank Williams, Sr., is lucky he didn’t live in the 21st Century. We all are. His music was a gift to Americana, sweet lullabies of pain. If he lived in the 21st Century, we might never have known his music. We live in a fierce and unforgiving time. Someone would have killed him by now. If not the police…