Social Justice Roundup: Kelly Thomas, Troy Davis, Occupy Wall Street and Irvine 11

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Photo: Friends for Fullerton's Future

In a rare move by the Orange County District Attorney, two Fullerton officers involved in the death of Kelly Thomas were charged. On Sep. 21, Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for his involvement in the alleged brutal beating of the 37-year-old homeless man with schizophrenia. Corporal Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter.


According to Dist. Atty. Tony R ackauckas, Ramos had prior non-documented contact with Thomas and did not appear to feel threatened by him. There was no pat down search for weapons. The “defining” moment during the confrontation was when Ramos allegedly put on his latex gloves, said “Now see my fists? They are ready to f–k you up” to Thomas and proceeded to yell more commands to Thomas. This escalated the lawful detainment to an unlawful use of force when making alleged threats to Thomas. Ramos is accused of tackling Thomas to the ground after Thomas tried to get away from the unlawful use of force, punching Thomas several times in the left ribs, pinning him to the ground and using his hands to hold Thomas’ neck. He is accused of not informing the other officers at the scene that he had made menacing threats or asking the officers to discontinue their use of force against Thomas.

Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is accused of assisting with the unlawful use of force by use of a taser and kneeing Thomas twice in the head. Not only is he accused of using the Taser on Thomas four times, he allegedly used the front end of his Taser to hit Thomas eight times in his facial area. He is also accused of “commenting” about his use of force and the physical damage to Thomas after paramedics arrived.

While the other four officers participated in the incident, the DA said there is a lack of evidence to show any of those four were aware that Ramos had proceeded from a lawful detainment to an unlawful use of force.

According to the Orange County Register, Ramos is now the first on-duty police officer charged with murder by Orange County prosecutors.
Due to a new transparency policy by the DA implemented in December for officer-involved deaths, the detailed findings are now made public. The full public document of the OCDA investigation can be found here. A video of the press conference Rackauckas held on Sep. 21 can be viewed here. Read a transcript of the press conference at the OCDA website.


Photo: Savannah Morning News

On Sep. 21, Troy Anthony Davis was executed the state of Georgia despite widespread doubts about his guilt. Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.

Since his conviction, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There was no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene.

A day before his execution, the state denied a request for clemency. Hundreds of supporters rallied outside of the Georgia Diagnostic Prison in the town of Jackson just hours before he was executed. His original scheduled execution was set for 7:00 pm, however a request to the United States Supreme Court for a stay delayed the execution. While it was looking like Davis’ life may be spared, word came through that the Supreme Court denied the request. Davis was executed by lethal injection at 11:08pm.

Over the years, there has been a high profile campaign for Davis to be taken off death row. Supporters have stated that the facts after the trial left too much doubt to execute Davis. The case has brought up the ethical issues and arguments against the death penalty in the public eye. In the wake of Davis’ death, many are wondering – did the state of Georgia kill an innocent man?

In Davis’ final written statement to supporters, he wrote:

The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.

Davis maintained his innocence in his final moments. Davis’ final spoken words can be read here.


Photo: David Shankbone

Thousands of protesters have descended upon Wall Street in New York to protest corporate greed and power resulting in the financial crisis. The demonstrations started Sep. 17, which was dubbed “Day of Rage” by national supporters. On Sep. 24, the AP reported there were 80 arrests during one of the daily marches.

Demonstrators have sought to camp out at the nearby Zucotti Park, formerly Liberty Park, until their demands have been met. One of which is the end of corporate personhood as a Supreme Court decision declared corporations have the same rights as people.

Estimates have ranged from 1,000 to 3,000 protesters in all. On the first night, protesters were gearing up for law enforcement harassment as they set up their tents and sleeping bags as there was word going around that the police may enforce a 10:00 pm curfew for the park. There was also word that the NYPD turned off power at One Chase Manhattan Plaza where demonstrators were gathered. Protester Dustin Slaughter stated on his Twitter that it was a “blatant effort to prohibit protesters from recharging camera batteries and cell phones.” Protesters reported they had peaceful interactions with the police over the first weekend, however tensions started to rise once the work week started.

On Sep. 19, there were five arrests during the protest on the first business day of the demonstrations. Police barricades closed off several blocks near Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange for security. Residents and employees of businesses in the area must show identification to get through the barricades. Since then, police have reportedly banned protesters from having umbrellas as they are considered a hazard. Due to this ban, some independent media equipment has been damaged or destroyed because of rainy weather.

Protesters and their supporters have claimed “media blackout” in regards to coverage of the protests. While there has been some mainstream media coverage, it has been minimal and some say have not painted the full picture of the police brutality incidents. Supporters are getting updates via twitter and live feeds. There is word that Twitter was preventing #OccupyWallStreet from trending, so users have also tweeted through #TakeWallStreet. Rappers Lupe Fiasco and Immortal Technique have been in attendance as well as comedienne Roseanne Barr.

During the arrest sweep on Sep. 24, there were numerous claims of police aggression. There have been allegations of excessive forces during arrests. There is a Youtube video showing police using orange nets to corral protesters and at one point, mace is used on peaceful female protesters. According to the AP, police say the arrests were mostly for blocking traffic. Charges included disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. One demonstrator was charged with assaulting a police officer. At the end of the night, tensions were reportedly eased between police and protesters.

Solidarity actions have taken place in Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and at least 30 other major U.S. cities.


On Sep. 23, an Orange County jury found 10 university students guilty on misdemeanor counts of disturbing a public meeting and conspiracy during a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren last year. The defendants, originally dubbed as the Irvine 11, were given three years of informal probation, plus 56 hours of community service. The judge also ordered them to pay $270 in fines. The 11th students’ charges were earlier dropped after a plea negotiation.

On Feb. 8, 2010, seven UC Irvine and three UC Riverside students spoke out at a speech by Oren against what they perceived to be injustices committed by the speaker. The students left peacefully but were arrested shortly after the event. The UCI Muslim Student Union has been suspended as a punishment for the actions of the Irvine 11. The charges and subsequent convictions raise questions of freedom of speech on college campuses and in the U.S. in general.

Supporters maintained that the Irvine 11 were acting in accordance with their First Amendment right to freedom of speech while detractors claim the students were disrupting the speech of another citizen and depriving the speaker of his freedom of speech.

In Feb. 2010, UCI Professors defended the Irvine 11 by writing an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times and sent a letter to Chancellor Drake. UCLA Associated Students pass a resolution that condemns any action that is to be taken place against the Irvine 11 during the same time period. After the closing arguments last week, OC Weekly asked “Who’s Gagging Whom in the Irvine 11 Case?”. The editorial boards for both the LA Times and OC Register have shown support for the students after the convictions.

In the DA’s media release, the office said the jury “sent a strong message that First Amendment rights belong to every American and we will not tolerate a small band of people who want to hijack our freedoms.”

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