The trial of Fullerton, California police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli for the killing of Kelly Thomas was unusual from the start. Usually when police officers murder civilians, they are put on “administrative leave” (paid vacation) until an “internal review” determines that they “acted according to policy.” In many cases, the killers’ identities are never even divulged to the public. So when Ramos and Cicinelli were charged, the charges brought with them hope that justice, just this once, might be done.
Let’s be unequivocal on this point: There is no doubt whatsoever, let alone any “reasonable” doubt, that Ramos and Cicinelli brutally murdered an innocent victim. They tased Kelly Thomas five times, then brutally beat him, on camera, as he begged for his life. Thomas arrived at the hospital in a coma and died five days later of his injuries.
An Orange County, California jury’s acquittal of these two clearly and irrefutably guilty murderers, for no better reason than that they were wearing uniforms and carrying badges when they committed their crime, is troubling not only in and of itself, but for its likely future consequences.
Almost by definition, major social changes involve upheaval. But there’s a range within which such upheaval may occur. US president John F. Kennedy alluded to that range when he observed that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Granted, Kennedy’s definition of “revolution” involved relatively minor changes — like, for example, convicting and imprisoning killer cops instead of giving them free passes — within a system he considered too obviously natural to question because he was born into, and fully participated in, it.
That 400-year-old system, the Westphalian nation-state, is disintegrating around us even now. Its 200-year-old progeny, the “police” system as we know it, will almost certainly slide into the dustbin of history with it.
A hip-pocket example of the continuum I’m talking about is the late 20th century dissolution of the Warsaw Pact regimes. In some countries, mass demonstrations segued relatively peacefully into slightly more “liberal” political regimes. In Romania, on the other hand, dictators Nicolai and Elena Ceaucescu were put up against a wall and shot, and regime police attempting to escape the country in an armored vehicle were tracked down and killed by angry Romanians.
When the United States dissolves, as is it inevitably shall, the range of possibilities looks something like this:
At one end of the continuum, former police officers move on. The worst of them may find themselves shunned by right-thinking people, but most of them get real jobs, become productive members of society and spend the rest of their lives trying to live down their sordid pasts … and maybe even succeeding.
At the other end of the continuum, former cops are hunted down like vermin and exterminated without mercy by their victims, their victims’ families and their victims’ friends, with onlookers cheering the executions on, or at least declining to intervene.
The jury’s acquittal of Ramos and Cicinelli was a vote for the latter outcome. It was also a vote for continuing and escalating police lawlessness. The less the specifically guilty individuals pay for their crimes now, the more such crimes we will have, the more the generally guilty class will pay later … and the sooner that later will come.