Protesters Gather To Remember Kelly Thomas, Open Up About Personal Stories of Police Brutality

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OCWeekly/ Marisa Gerber
The group of people who gathered in front of the Fullerton Police Department for today's protest differed from last week's crew. 

Sure, the group was smaller this week--somewhere around 200 people showed up.

But, the more marked change was the collective stepping back process, a searching for the bigger picture. 

The crowd was certainly still united in its mission to bring justice to Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic transient who died at the hands of Fullerton police officers. But now, they're looking beyond Thomas, too.

"Just how prevalent is police brutality? What can we do about it?" 

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OCWeekly/ Marisa Gerber
Renee and Boaz Balenti
Renee and Boaz Balenti, who were both at the protest, said it's all too common -- and they have firsthand experience on the topic. (Read my colleague Nick Schou's story about Balenti's experience with notorious Anaheim cop Scott McManus a couple years back for more detail.)

"This is a problem all over the place in Orange County. It goes on and on and on and it never stops. If everyone stands up, maybe, it won't happen again," said Boaz's wife, Renee.

Charlotte Cianciola, a protester from Buena Park, stood a few feet away from the Balentis, overheard the conversation and chimed in. She, too, felt she'd been the victim of police brutality. 

Cianciola said she got into a car accident a while back, got a concussion and wandered to her friend's house. Her friend called 911, but Cianciola said that when the cops showed up they bombarded her with questions and said they knew her address. "Then they asked me, 'What's your name?,'" Cianciola recalled, "'And I said, 'You tell me, you're the psychic.' Then they took me and slapped me up against the wall. I just remember melting against that wall."

Ron Thomas, Kelly's father, said that, since the story went national, he's had several people come up to him and share such stories. "I'm encouraging them to come out and talk about bad encounters with police," Thomas said. "People need to tell their stories and put an end to all this." 

Still, in many ways, today's protest was similar to last week's. There was still almost no police presence at the protest, for example, although one officer did come outside for a while, talk to protesters and answer questions. 

The officer's presence went over well and several protesters came up to shake his hand. In fact, blogger Tony Bushala, who's following the case closely, even drew up a quick sign saying the officer should be the next police chief. "Oh, stop that," the officer said. "No, I'm serious, you're out here talking to people. You seem to care," Bushala said.


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