Just about every car that zoomed past the crowd of more than 350 protesters gathered near the Fullerton Police Department today, offered a honk and threw up a peace sign.
People protesting the death of Kelly Thomas
-- a homeless, schizophrenic man--at the hands of Fullerton police officers, began to show up before 9 a.m. today. Some chanting "Justice for Kelly," and others hoisting signs: "U R as guilty as 6 cops!" one sign said. Another read: "Are we safe? RELEASE THE TAPE." And another: "God hates killer cops."
After an hour or so, a group of policemen emerged from the building and blocked off the nearby streets. The officers didn't interact with the protesters, although one of them stopped to shake the hand of Cathy Thomas, Kelly's mom.
A misty-eyed Cathy Thomas balanced the roles of mom and protester. She held up a sign, but didn't usually chant with the crowd, although she says she appreciates all the protesters. "Every time I see this many people I feel better. It makes my heart feel better."
She remembers her son as a caring person and a lover of music. "He liked '60s music. Creedence, The Doors, The Beatles. He loved music so much. His dad taught him to play the guitar and it was his go-to place and nothing else mattered."
Melissa Pape, Kelly's stepsister, remembers him as a protective older brother. "He was the fun one. He was my favorite. He used to call me Turbo," she says.
Don Thomas, Kelly's father, showed up to the protest late, because he had an interview with MSNBC this morning. He made a personal pledge to share his son's story, and he's not relenting. "Now the fight's on," he says.
Thomas, a onetime Orange County sheriff's deputy himself, says he's working hard to remind people that law enforcement, in general, aren't the bad guys. When speaking of the officers who allegedly beat Kelly to death, however, he doesn't hold back. "I want the death penalty on that guy that beat him with the Taser, and I'll pull the switch," he says.
Kelly's father says he plans to file a civil suit sometime soon, adding that he's currently consulting with four different attorney firms. Although he recently met with Police Chief Michael Sellers, who Thomas says gave him his personal cell phone number, Thomas is calling on Sellers to resign, saying he hasn't been a good leader.
16-month-old Meadow Senna is not happy.
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
Many of the protesters agreed, expressing disgust not only with the officers who allegedly beat Kelly, but also with their higher ups. "The cover-up is just as bad as the initial beating," says Mary Meek, an Anaheim resident who was at the protest.
Another protester, Erin Lewis, who lives in Fullerton, says she's worried about the integrity of the investigation into Kelly Thomas' killing. "The investigation needs to be taken care of, and not by the OCDA [Orange County District Attorney's office], they're in cahoots."
While anger motivated many, Dana Atkin came out to the protest because the story of Kelly Thomas' life and death hits close to home for her.
Atkin has a son in his 30s who lives with schizophrenia and spent many years living on the streets of Fullerton--all three things were also true of Kelly. "Even though I don't know the Thomas family, I know for a fact what they've had to go through."
Her biggest frustration amidst it all: the lack of support for the mentally ill.
"The system doesn't let them get help," Atkin says, "My son is now in the hospital, but he had to deteriorate to living under a bridge before he got help. He was hospitalized almost 10 times in one year until we were able to get him help."
Bushala added that he went to the homes of Mayor Richard Jones and Councilman Pat McKinley last night, but says nobody answered the doors when he knocked. Bushala decided to skip stopping by at the home of Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead, the third person he plans to offer recall papers to. He now plans to drop off copies of the recall papers to the city clerk on Monday. "You can run, but you can't hide," he says.