By Lyn Twyman
When those who have committed to serve and to protect abuse their power, it leaves many of us angered and disillusioned. Last week, Officer Manuel Ramos of the Fullerton Police Department was charged with murdering 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in early July, a schizophrenic homeless man. Thomas Watkins of the Associated Press wrote, "Prosecutors say Ramos started the beating then five other officers who had not seen the start of the confrontation joined in. In the 10-minute incident, Thomas was shocked four times with a Taser, kneed in the head, punched in the ribs and bashed eight times around the face with the butt of a stun gun as he cried out for his father and begged for help as Ramos laid on top of him….”.
As someone who was mentally impaired, Thomas wasn't your typical criminal. And prosecutors say Ramos already knew Thomas from routine stop-and-searches in times past, so dealing with Thomas should have been far from a surprise for Ramos, certainly not ending in a savage, deadly beating.
In the same state of California as the Fullerton incident, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department recently deployed a 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team Training. It is “five times the mental health education officers receive in the academy” and “ is giving local law enforcement more understanding of the mentally ill, ” Kellie Schmitt writes in her article Officers’ Mental Health Training Saving Lives, Costs. Schmitt’s work further reads, “The effort is especially relevant as departments throughout California grapple with officer shootings involving the mentally ill. Up to 10 percent of the Kern County Sheriff's Department's calls involve someone who is mentally ill…”.
Schmitt goes on to interview Sheriff's Deputy Marcus Moncur,
In basic academy, we're taught that people with mental illness are just as dangerous as a gangster carrying a gun," Moncur said. "Taking the class put it in perspective for me that people who suffer from mental illness are just like you and me.
The Kern County Sheriff's Department saw a pressing need to better serve the mentally ill citizens of their community so they employed this life saving training. This in turn has helped officers like Moncur to become more equipped and to put their jobs in even better perspective, eventually reducing the amount of mentally ill casualties.
We can learn what to do from Kern County when it comes to serving victims of domestic violence. We can learn what not to do from the Fullerton PD. The Kern County Sheriff's Department employed a better method, something that had never been done before in their department in order to help some of the most vulnerable in their community. The Sheriff's Department changed their approach and came up with a newer solution for dealing with the mentally ill. Fullerton on the other hand clearly lacked a program and had some bad, brutish officers with serious issues roaming the streets alongside our children. Perhaps these officers got burned out or maybe they just didn’t care while possessing all the power to save or in this case take a life and essentially murder Kelly Thomas.
Thus, the domestic violence community has to employ better methods as well just like Kern County, not just for police officers but also for service providers that place themselves as the go-to’s for victims. The lack of proper responsiveness has beaten down and killed thousands of victims in an effort to maintain status quo, instead of invoking a true revolutionary domestic violence movement.
There are only a handful of organizations in this country and a multitude of activists that realize the pressing need to employ better programs and services. With thousands of victims being turned away by organizations, and with broken judicial systems across the country, the time is long overdue to embrace methods that empower victims and their families. The police cannot provide victims with personal security, the judges cannot be educated quick enough, and the service providers cannot meet the ever-growing demand of victims who courageously decide to leave and become self-sufficient.
The days of running to shelters is not the practical answer anymore as reports from across our country have made it clear that domestic violence programs just cannot keep up with the amount of victims, let alone return phone calls or emails. The public needs the safety tools placed right in their hands so they can fight back effectively, true resources designed to inform, guide, and direct victims personally and legally.
We are all aware that domestic violence goes on but the looming question has been for quite sometime now ‘What do we do it?’. Even people far removed from this issue ask this question, but we don’t say the same thing about breast cancer or better yet animal abuse. Furthermore, the U.N. has called the U.S.’s actions on domestic violence into question. I believe this is happening because we still have a good ways to go to serve victims. No, we have not arrived.
No hot line nor coalition can do what the victim can do for herself or himself and that's why we must change our approach to domestic violence in this country. The victims need more comprehensive knowledge and better tools. Law enforcement and judges need more training than ever before as we transition into a less misogynistic society although both fields still remain male dominated. In particular, men in these positions have to be better educated about a problem that is considered a woman’s issue. And clearly it’s not as more male victims come forward seeking help and justice as victims.
There are some of us that choose to do something about the ever-growing need to really empower this country against domestic violence. Now it's the turn of every organization across the country to do the same by coming together and end the territorial debate and fear over funding and power struggles; it’s time to end the politics. Just like in law enforcement, change has to come from the ones that say they are here to protect and serve domestic violence victims, unless we find our selves neglecting and assaulting because of our callousness the very ones we say we’re here to help.