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July 4th and 5th: A tale of two anniversaries
There are two anniversaries coming up this weekend.
On Friday July 4th, we will celebrate the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the day our founding fathers rejected the authority of not just the crown of England, but any crown, and placed this country on its path toward self-government and liberty.
We also commemorate the inspiring words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Jefferson noted that, rather than the common people existing to serve the crown or the state, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” for the purpose of preserving our rights as citizens. This marked a sea change in the world at that time and led to the creation of the greatest nation of all time, the one each and every one of us is privileged to live in.
238 years later, we still enjoy celebrating this anniversary.
But the anniversary coming up the very next day is one that many would like to forget: Saturday July 5th marks the third anniversary of the day that a schizophrenic and unarmed transient was beaten to death by officers of the Fullerton Police Department. The event became a source of much acrimony, division and anger throughout the town, as people argued about what his death meant and what the city needs to do about it. It is an event many people in this town wish to put behind us, myself included.
So why am I talking about it? Because I hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that government exists to secure those rights and that a government which fails to do so has violated its obligation to the citizenry and must be reformed, which is exactly what happened in the aftermath of July 5.
Put aside the criminal action for a moment and look at how this matter was handled internally. Officers were given access to video evidence denied to the public or its representatives on the City Council for close to a year. Key facts regarding the investigation as to this incident and other incidents these officers were involved in were kept from the public. Half of the officers involved in the incident are still on the public payroll despite the fact that the public’s trust in them has been so damaged they cannot perform the duties they were hired to perform and, once they retire (in their 50s), we will pay 90% of their top salary until their deaths.
In short, we have turned our public employees into a favored class with special employment rights, benefits and privacy rights denied to the citizenry as a whole.
How is this kind of special treatment and favoritism in any way consistent with the words of Thomas Jefferson, words we venerate to this day? We need to remember that our public employees are hired to benefit us, and not the other way around. We need a system that investigates complaints against our officers fairly and independently, so we know our police department is retaining its good officers and culling out those who are not up to the job — not just to save money, but to ensure that our citizens’ liberties are respected.
And when we do this, we will be able to finally put the legacy of Kelly Thomas to rest, once and for all.
And that will be a day worth celebrating.