It isn’t easy to capture the emotion behind anticipation. I helped my kids set up Christmas today. We got a tree, we hung up lights, we read stories and watched a movie. I answered questions, some absurd, some less so– all sincere. I got out some old sheet music and plinked out a few carols on the ivories and after the kids were put to bed, my wife and I talked about how our parents used to do the same for us.
For many of you, today was a day very similar to mine: Full of anticipation. For others, it was not. For the families connected to three individuals, I imagine today was full of a different kind of anticipation, perhaps of hope for a return of a world before July 5, 2011.
Former Fullerton Police Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli will be in court tomorrow. A jury will examine, almost 900 days after the fact, if the two defendants are guilty of felonies connected with a man they sought to forcibly detain. A man who was combative if not defiant with officers. A man who was beaten with a stick, fists, knees, and feet. A man who was electrocuted, whose face was “smashed to hell” with the handle of a taser, and whose body was crushed by a physical pile of six fully-grown-well-trained-well-equipped members of the Fullerton Police Department. A man who died after volunteering his backpack to officers who knew him. A man without a shirt, without any weapon or means to resist. A man, who was sworn to be protected, who was sworn to be served. A man who was the least amongst us. A man who would have inherited the earth. A man who cried out for his father while blood pooled in his lungs. A man, not so different from you, not so different from the Man many of us aspire to be more like.
We’re going to hear a lot about Kelly Thomas in the next few weeks. We’re going to hear a lot about Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, too. We’re going to hear a lot of testimony that’s designed to give the jury insight into whose actions were more likely to be just and whose were more likely to be criminal. In short, we’re going to hear about whose life is worth protecting and whose is not.
On December 25th, over 2 billion people will celebrate the birth of a man born roughly 2000 years ago. A man who was born and died homeless, who was labeled insane by his peers, and who was mocked, beaten, tortured, and executed by agents of the state. He offered no physical resistance, was verbally combative if not defiant in the face of his captors, and died naked– crushed by the weight of his body and the blood pooled in his lungs while crying out to his father.
Character is very much in the eye of the beholder, and while Kelly Thomas was certainly no saint, Christ would have never snapped on a pair of latex gloves and threatened to fuck up anyone. Christ would have never smashed anyone’s face to hell with anything, either.
Every life is worth protecting. It doesn’t matter how dirty you are, how smelly you are, where you do or don’t live, how annoying you are, what you did yesterday, or what you did 18 years ago. It doesn’t matter how Christ like you are or aren’t. What matters is that you’re a person and that should be enough.
In a few weeks, we’ll have a verdict. Whatever decision the jury reaches, I hope that their decision is based on their interpretations of the actions taken by equal, fallible, men. I hope their wisdom is biased by the evidence and not by fear, and I hope their conviction to do right includes holding individuals, all individuals, accountable.
But, most of all, I hope that for the next decade or so I get to answer lots of absurd and sincere questions in December like: “How does Santa Claus visit every single house on one night?” I hope I never have to answer why there are two colors of justice in the world: One for those with social standing in Fullerton and one for those without.