A certain percentage, they tell us, must go … that way — to the devil, I suppose…. A percentage! What splendid words they have; they are so scientific, so consolatory…. Once you’ve said `percentage’ there’s nothing more to worry about.
Rodion Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”
Kelly Thomas wasn’t beaten to death by a thugscrum of eight police officers; he simply happened to die while they were striking, kicking, and choking him. That’s what Dr. Steven Karch would have us believe, or at least pretend to.
Manuel Ramos and Jay Cincinelli, who were among the six Fullerton, California officers involved in the July 5, 2011 gang beating of Thomas, are currently on trial for involuntary manslaughter and second-degree murder.
Karch was paid handsomely to peddle puerile lies on behalf of the defense.
Thomas, who had no criminal record, was repeatedly tasered and beaten with batons while the assailants chanted the shared refrain of rapists and police officers: “Stop resisting!”
At one point, Cincinelli – frustrated that Thomas didn’t simply submit and die – clubbed the victim in the face with the butt of his Taser. (“We ran out of options,” Cincinelli later explained, “so I got the end of my Taser and I … just smashed his face to hell.”) Numerous eyewitnesses testified that the attack continued long after Thomas was inert and motionless.
Prior to Karch’s testimony, the Orange County coroner and the trauma surgeon who had treated Thomas testified that the slender, troubled homeless man died as a result of oxygen deprivation caused by prolonged chest compression and repeated blunt facial trauma during the seven-minute onslaught. Unlike Karch, those medical professionals had first-hand involvement in the case.
Karch never met Kelly Thomas while he was alive, nor did he examine his mortal remains after Fullerton’s paladins of public order had protected and served him into an irreversible coma. His testimony was both untainted by fact and untouched by doubt: In his view, Thomas died as a result of drug use, not from the lethal ministrations of the State’s punitive priesthood.
Speaking with a certitude unencumbered by facts, Karch insisted that Thomas died from “methamphetamine cardiomyopathy.” As it happens, the toxicology report on Thomas’s remains showed that he had no trace of alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of his death.
This doesn’t matter, insisted Karch, because Thomas was a meth user decades ago, which could have left him with both a weakened heart and a tendency to have sudden, unpredictable psychotic episodes.
Kelly Thomas was entirely responsible for his own death, according to Karch, beginning with the supposed “psychotic episode” that triggered the confrontation with the police. Apparently, Thomas’s earlier drug abuse had also endowed the 160-lb. man with superhuman strength.
“It’s not easy to throw a half-dozen policemen around,” Karch stated on the witness stand, breezily revising an incident in which Thomas was pinned down and helpless, his face being beaten into an unrecognizable mass while he cried out for his father. “I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d fight with six police officers.”
Thomas most likely would have agreed with that assessment, given that he did everything he could to avoid the confrontation Ramos was irrationally determined to provoke. If the oft-misused term “psychotic” applies to the events of that evening, it would best be used to describe the behavior of the assailants, rather than the victim.
After making contact with Thomas, Ramos mocked, taunted, and harassed the mentally troubled man before devising an excuse to attack him.
“See these fists?” Ramos gloatingly said as he snapped on a pair of latex gloves. “They’re getting ready to f**k you up.”
That gesture, like all of the other actions by police officers during the attack, was compatible with the Fullerton PD’s use of force policy, according to the testimony of Corporal Stephen Rubio, who helps train the department’s costumed simians. Rubio referred to that overture to a beating as a “conditional threat,” a description that could apply to any threat emitted by any common criminal of the variety not imbued with “qualified immunity.”
Kelly Thomas’s father, Ron Thomas (a retired sheriff’s deputy) reports that his troubled son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Ramos suffered from a far deadlier psychosis – one that is highly contagious, as the actions of his comrades that evening demonstrate.
Whatever its etiology, aggressive violence is a behavioral disorder. Law enforcement aggressively recruits people inclined toward such behavior and provides them with a license to express their violent impulses. When this results in a manifestly unnecessary and avoidable death, police unions and hireling “experts” like Karch will insist that the officers are blameless: It’s not that the police killed the victim, he just happened to die in their presence. “He could have died sitting in a closet by himself,” Karch smugly asserted on the witness stand. Asked during cross-examination if he was saying that Thomas “was destined to die on that particular day and the police just happened to be there,” Karch left that question in the hands of Providence: “Only God can say that.”
Karch affects the title “Doctor,” but in his work as a police apologist his philosophical tutor is not Hippocrates; it’s Raskolnikov, the nihilistic protagonist in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Convinced that he is a transcendent figure who is not beholden to the moral laws that govern the rest of humanity, Raskolnikov decides to murder a thoroughly unpleasant old woman in order to establish his status as a post-human “superman.”
“I could kill that damned old woman and make off with her money,” Raskolnikov boasted to a policeman, who didn’t object. After all, the self-appointed uberman continued, a certain “percentage” of people are simply destined to die, and this greedy old wretch was overdue. Besides, killing her would be a socially redemptive act:“On the one hand we have a stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman, not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for herself, and who will die in a day or two in any case…. On the other side, we have fresh young lives thrown away for want of help and by thousands, on every side. A hundred thousand good deeds could be done and helped, on that old woman’s money, which will be buried in a monastery…. Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote one’s self to the service of humanity and the good of all. What do you think – would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?… One death, and a hundred lives in exchange – it’s simple arithmetic.” To the best of my knowledge, Steven Karch has no hands-on experience with lethal violence. He displays his perverse ingenuity by dispensing sophisms intended to persuade the credulous that the victim of police violence was simply going to die anyway – so the assailants are not to blame. In that role, Karch has not only served as an “expert witness” on behalf of killer cops, but also as a federally subsidized evangelist on behalf of the concept of “excited delirium,” a mysterious condition that seems to afflict only those who are gang-tackled, tased, and otherwise abused by police.
Such unfortunate souls are merely part of the sacrificial “percentage” necessary in order to preserve social order, Karch and his ilk insist, in the serene confidence that neither they nor anyone they love will be found in that category.