Who wouldn't run?

Who wouldn’t run?

A front page story in the March 24 edition of the Orange County Register chronicles special training received by county police officers to deal with mentally ill people following the  death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton three and half years ago.

(When Police, Mentally Ill Collide, Tom Berg and Lou Ponsi, Associated Press, OC Register, March 24, 2015)

Though it may be encouraging to read that “First responders at many departments in Orange County – and nationwide – are required to attend sessions where they hear directly from mentally ill people,” the article still conveys the subtle suggestion that Kelly Thomas is dead  because he was schizophrenic, and that if only officers had understood his condition, he might be alive today.

The article states that “Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic, failed to follow a Fullerton police officer’s instructions and was brutally beaten as he cried out for his father, asked for help, and complained that he couldn’t breathe.” Fullerton police officers were familiar with Kelly Thomas, and should easily have understood his confusion over orders to place his hands on his knees. And even if they didn’t, and thought he was just willfully disobeying their orders, they should not have struck him first, and should have been able to restrain him without the “brutal beating” acknowledged by the authors of the Register story. Is it for lack of training in dealing with the mentally ill that Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli, and Joseph Wolfe no longer work for the Fullerton Police Department?

When we read that first responders ‘learn that what looks like “resisting arrest” from an officer’s vantage point may actually be abject terror from the suspect’s vantage point. About how that terror can infuse people with uncanny strength and resistance to pain as they attempt to escape, which can escalate a confrontation,’ we cannot help but recall the reaction of Kelly Thomas to the FPD’s Manuel Ramos’ alarming and inappropriate threats of immediate violence. Abject terror would be an understandable reaction by anyone, mentally ill or not, to an armed officer donning latex gloves and saying to them “These hands are going to fuck you up.” The mentally ill have no patent on “uncanny strength and resistance to pain” in moments of extreme stress, and needn’t be singled out as unique in trying with all their might to survive a savage, unwarranted assault by multiple police officers.

Few would doubt that police officers in heavily populated areas will inevitably have to deal with unpredictable, potentially violent behavior by people suffering from mental illnesses. And while Tom Dominguez of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs is right to state in the article that “It is unrealistic to expect officers to take on the role of social workers,” de-escalation of a volatile situation should be just as routine a strategy while contending with the ostensibly sane as it is with the mentally ill.

Training police to recognize signs of mental disorders among civilians is rightfully mandatory. They, and the OC Register, should also remember to recognize pathological violence used by law enforcement against anyone, mentally ill or not.

SQS St. Patrick's Day 2015

On Monday, March 16 Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva will host a fundraiser for her bid to reclaim the 65th California Assembly seat from freshman incumbent Republican Young Kim, who triumphed over her in one of the most expensive Assembly elections in state history last year.

In 2012 Sharon Quirk-Silva scored an upset victory over then-incumbent Chris Norby, helping the Democrats to secure a solid two-thirds majority in both legislative houses. While in office, she promoted the establishment of a federal cemetery for military veterans in Orange County. Her voting record can be found here at votesmart.org. It is generally favorable toward labor and immigration priorities, and shows support for limiting high capacity magazines for some guns–just the sort of issues to coax steam from the ears of conservatives. Her environmental record is mixed, showing two “Nay” votes against a statewide plastic bag ban. Lamentably, The Rag has no indication that she ever sought reform of POBR, the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, to require more transparency and accountability of law enforcement officers and agencies.

Her re-election in 2014 was all but impossible given the low voter turnout by Democrats in that year’s mid-term contest. Many voters quickly tired of receiving dozens of mailers from each campaign every week, but at least it was a contested election, something nearly unheard of thanks to gerrymandered legislative districts that normally favor one party over the other.

Barely three months into the job, Young Kim doesn’t have much of a record to run against, other than offering a bill that would prohibit adding toll lanes to OC freeways without direct approval of the electorate–something likely to be popular among voters. With Prop. 14 in place to eliminate third party candidates, it could be a very close election. Sharon Quirk-Silva is no doubt counting on higher voter turnout by her party in a presidential election year to put her over the top, but she may need a stronger message to motivate the electorate this time around.

Image taken from the L.A. Times (without permission).

Image taken from the L.A. Times (without permission).

65th District Assemblymember Young Kim has introduced a bill that would prohibit a controversial plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 405 without direct approval by voters. The move would prevent the addition of a toll lane to the freeway as part of Measure M2-funded improvements, which already include extra lanes in both directions on one of the most congested highways in the state. Arguing that Caltrans “does not have the legislative authority to own or operate toll lanes anywhere in the state,” and that no mention of tolls appeared in the ballot language for Measure M2, the half cent sales to fund transportation improvements, Ms. Kim introduced AB 1459, to require a two-thirds majority approval by voters before any “toll facility” could be built in Orange County.

The OC Register, who endorsed Young Kim for her seat last year, disagrees with her, contending that by transforming the existing carpool lane into one that still allows carpools but also allows single driver vehicles to use it for a fee, freeway traffic will move faster. The Register even acknowledges that the scheme smacks of double taxation, except that “use of these lanes would be entirely voluntary.”

Like her predecessor, Sharon Quirk-Silva, Young Kim sits on the Assembly Transportation Committee. Sharon Quirk-Silva supporter Vern Nelson over at the Orange Juice blog recently recalled that last year Ms. Quirk-Silva and fellow Democrat Tom Daly both allowed a similar bill penned by Allan Monsoor to “quietly die in committee last year by boldly abstaining (so as not to piss off the dread Teamsters and Building Trades who see toll lanes as a makework slush fund.)”

What’s a Republican to do when a left-wing blog supports her bill but the right-wing county newspaper doesn’t?

Here is one suggestion: Instead of rearranging the deck chairs on our Titanically dysfunctional freeway system, why not focus on long term solutions that include mass transit? If we can devote $15.8 billion to widening freeways, why can’t we upgrade our bus system to optimum functionality, and add bike infrastructure to get more drivers off of the road in the first place?

Sharon Quirk-Silva will host a fundraiser next week to kick off her bid to reclaim the 65th Assembly seat in 2016. The Rag challenges both candidates to identify ways to fund mass transit for commuters, instead of arguing over how to spend money to alleviate perennially congested automobile traffic.

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