The Orange County District Attorney sent an important message today by personally overseeing the preliminary hearing of Fullerton police officers charged in the death of Kelly Thomas. The message is that no victim is invisible before the law and no alleged perpetrator is too powerful in the face of it.
Kelly Thomas was a 37-year-old homeless and mentally ill man who died after being tased and brutally beaten into a coma by police officers outside a Fullerton bus stop while he pleaded for mercy and called out to his father for help.
Graphic photos of the bruised body of Mr. Thomas were released at today's preliminary hearing, apparently causing the audience to gasp.
But another part of the Kelly Thomas story is his father's quest for justice and the power of new media and photographing brutality to achieve it.
Early on, when it seemed as if interest may fade in regards to the tragedy, Kelly Thomas' father released photos he took of his battered son as he lay close to death on a hospital bed. Such photos, taken from a cell phone camera, were very similar to those taken by a crime scene tech at the scene and admitted in court today.
Further, the prosecution is apparently using as evidence in the case cell phone footage taken by witnesses at the scene who wisely used their new media devices to engage in the important government oversight role of photographing brutality.
Whatever happens with the preliminary hearing and any related civil case or federal investigation, the world has now seen the tragic, horrific and very real consequences of police brutality. The code of silence in this particular case has been broken.
As long as police brutality and abuse of power remain issues in our culture photographing brutality will be a critical tool we use to fight it.