The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.
Tonight I watched the movie City Hall, starring Al Pacino and John Cusack. It came out in the 90s, and I don’t think it got much attention. But watching it tonight, in the context of the recent Kelly Thomas police brutality case in my hometown of Fullerton, the movie became surprisingly relevant and insightful.
In a nutshell, City Hall is about the accidental shooting of a child, and how it starts a domino effect that ends up exposing corruption at the highest levels of New York city government. A boy is caught in the crossfire of a shootout between a cop and the nephew of a mob boss who, it turns out, is connected to the mayor and a supreme court judge. The mafia thing is a little sensationalized (It’s a Hollywood movie), but what the movie is really about is government corruption, how well-intentioned people make compromises that end up destroying them from the inside out.
In the case of Kelly Thomas, this corruption was exposed through mass community protests, public comment at city council meetings, and social media like blogs and facebook. In the movie City Hall, the corruption is exposed by one man, the young deputy mayor. His job is to protect the mayor, but the more he finds out, the more his conscience compels him to tell the truth, and not protect his superiors.
As a member of the voting public in Fullerton, I don’t get to have all the information about the Kelly Thomas case. Here are some things I don’t get to know:
-Why did police chief Michael Sellers go on medical leave (awaiting retirement and pension) shortly after the Kelly Thomas protests began? Is he immune now from public or legal scrutiny?
-Why were only two of the six officers involved charged with a crime? I have to take the District Attorney’s word that they were innocent.
-If, according to public relations officer Andrew Goodrich, city council members Dick Jones, Pat McKinley, and Don Bankhead stayed silent on the issue so they would not compromise the investigation, how could other council members (Sharon Quirk-Silva and Bruce Whitaker) be so vocal about the issue without it compromising the investigation?
-Were it not for all the public protest, would this case even have seen the light of day? The fact that all the officers involved remained on active duty weeks after the incident suggests that it would not. My friend’s cousin is the attorney for the Thomas family, and he says that, for every case like this one, there are 15 that never see the light of day.
-Finally, why wasn’t the surveillance video taken of the Kelly Thomas beating made public? It was a public camera paid for by tax dollars. Why doesn’t the public get to see this? Sergeant Goodrich says it would compromise the investigation and taint the jury pool. But if someone is on the jury for this case, they will see this footage anyway. So what does it matter whether they see it now or later? I suspect he fears the public will see the truth.
What this whole issue has brought to light is the fact that Fullerton City Council and the Fullerton Police Department seem way more interested in protecting their asses than in making their community a better place to live. In the movie City Hall, it took someone INSIDE the political power structure to bring the full truth to light. I would hope there are people inside the Fullerton political power structure with the courage to do the same.
We haven't forgotten about you, Chief Sellers. Enjoy your pension.