Death By Cop: A Homeless Problem

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I’ve been tracking all the latest news related to the beating death of Kelly Thomas by the Fullerton Police Department. The Orange County community is inflamed over the excess use of force on this mentally ill man who had schizophrenia.

The anger and the resentment the community and the family members of Mr. Thomas feel are rightfully so. It’s hard to accept that six officers can unjustly beat an unarmed human being with or without provocation.


Image: Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee via ZUMA Press.

I thought back to a couple of homeless people who were slain by the police and how their deaths invoked community engagement.

The most noted one in 1999 was Margaret Mitchell. She was a 55 year-old homeless mentally ill woman who was shot by LAPD officers for lunging at them with a screwdriver while the officers were questioning her about a shopping cart.

Ms. Mitchell’s death had the community outraged because they didn’t feel her actions warranted a loss of life and that other subduing measures could have been taken. Unlike Mr. Thomas’ death, the community felt that race coupled with her homelessness played a major role in LAPD’s decision to use deadly force.

The LAPD police officers involved in Ms. Mitchell’s killing were cleared by an internal Police Department Board and did not face any disciplinary action.

In 2008, Inglewood Police Department officers shot a homeless man, named Eddie Felix Franco. In this particular case, Mr. Franco had a plastic toy gun that looked like a real one. What made this story unique was that the officers fired multiple times, allegedly 40, shooting a dog and grazing another person. The case was investigated for contagious fire. The local community was upset about this one too and asked for a federal probe. The Justice Department investigated and noted some problem findings.

There is no remediation for a loss of life. However, there is a call for accountability beyond administrative leave, suspension, termination, or financial retribution.

Police Departments should be required to have special units trained in appropriate responses to incidences involving homeless people that reduce the need for unnecessary force and deaths.

Homelessness has remained steady, but there are still a significant number of homeless people on the streets. With limited resources for housing and services, many on the streets are vulnerable to police abuse. Some, if there aren’t any mitigation efforts in place by police departments, will have “Slain by Police” in their obituary.


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