Matt Leslie

Two recent editorials by OC Human Relations Executive Director Rusty Kennedy attempt to make the case for a county homeless shelter in Fullerton by asserting that people like the late Kelly Thomas would be better off for its establishment. While it may be true that mentally ill and other homeless people would benefit from services offered by such a shelter, the murder of a mentally ill homeless man by the city’s police should not be confused with the need to shelter people.

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Mr. Kennedy begins his front page piece in The Fullerton Observer’s Mid May edition by asserting that “When Kelly Thomas lay dying in the street, it was a wake-up call that we need to set aside some of our animosities…” No, it was a wake-up call that the police had beaten a defenseless man to death for no apparent reason, and might get away with it if the community sat by and did nothing about it. If Mr. Kennedy wishes to see that animosities are set aside, he should support effective oversight of the Fullerton Police Department.

In Fullerton Stories Mr. Kennedy writes “Extraordinary Fullertonians are supportive, having played a part in the community-wide effort to do a better job protecting this vulnerable population since the tragic death of Kelly Thomas on our streets.” It is true that many extra(ordinary) people in Fullerton and from other cities demonstrated and spoke out for months to make sure that those responsible for killing Kelly Thomas were held accountable, but I don’t think it is those individuals to whom Mr. Kennedy refers.

The continual conflation of the murder of a mentally ill homeless man with the need to shelter homeless people–mentally ill or not–suggests that Kelly Thomas’ death was somehow a result of his homelessness and not an act of needless violence on the part of officers of the Fullerton Police Department. Invoking the name of Kelly Thomas implies that there are inevitable misunderstandings that might lead police to accidentally mistreat homeless people instead of accepting that there were, and perhaps still are, out of control and/or poorly trained police officers willing to brutalize people on the streets of Fullerton.

A shelter might have done little for someone like Kelly Thomas, who reportedly refused to sleep indoors. Perhaps he could have been persuaded to take advantage of some of the other services planned to be offered there, but arguing that the streets would be safer for the Kelly Thomases of the world is to ignore the reason for his violent death. As Fullerton resident Stephan Baxter has noted, Kelly Thomas did not die of exposure. Go ahead and make the best argument you can for a homeless shelter, Mr. Kennedy, but don’t pretend that Kelly Thomas is dead because he didn’t live in one.