A nephew of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suffered a seizure after he was beaten and shocked during a scuffle with security guards at a New Orleans area hospital, relatives alleged Friday.
Derek Thomas, 25, was immobilized with a stun gun Thursday after he tried to leave the emergency room at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., his sister told WDSU, a local television station. Security responded after Thomas refused a doctor's request to put on a hospital gown and started to leave, Kimberly Thomas said.
While this action by the security guards is deplorable, maybe this is a teachable moment for Justice Thomas, who once found such thuggish behavior less than awful:
Back in 1992, just after joining the court, Thomas dissented in the 7-2 decision that upheld a $800 award for damages for a Louisiana inmate who, from behind his locked cell, argued with a prison guard. Three guards took the inmate out of his cell, put him in handcuffs and shackles, and dragged him to a hallway where they beat him so badly that he suffered a cracked dental plate.
The lower court ruled that the beating had nothing to do with acceptable prison discipline. But Thomas all but laughed off the beating, saying the injuries were ''minor.'' Thomas said the ''use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be tortious, it may be criminal, and it may even be remediable under other provisions of the Federal Constitution, but it is not `cruel and unusual punishment.'''
Why do so many on the right lack the ability to intellectualize about awful treatment of other human beings? This shouldn't be that hard. But until it happens in their close circle of family & friends, it remains an abstraction uncomprehensible.
Of course, Thomas might still not understand what empathy is:
To the Editor:
Your July 7 article about Judge Clarence Thomas's intellectual journey on the path of self-help reports his oft-repeated quotation about his sister, then on welfare: "She gets mad when the mailman is late with her welfare check. That's how dependent she is." The rest of the quotation condemns her children: "What's worse is that now her kids feel entitled to the check, too. They have no motivation for doing better or getting out of that situation."
This is an appallingly callous statement and contrary to the facts. As reported in The Los Angeles Times on July 5, Judge Thomas's father deserted the family when the children were small. The mother supported the family by picking crabs at 5 cents a pound. When a fire destroyed their home and belongings, the mother, who could no longer support the children cleaning houses at $15 a week, sent the boys -- not the girls -- to live with their grandfather, an independent small-business man.
Judge Thomas's sister, Emma Mae, stayed home and graduated from high school. She got married and had children, and then her husband deserted her. While the judge was attending Yale Law School, she supported her family with two minimum-wage jobs. Her mother worked as a nurse's aide at the local hospital, and an aunt took care of the children.
Then the aunt suffered a stroke, and Emma Mae Martin had to quit work to take care of her. This was when she went on welfare. She was on welfare about four and a half years. Now she works as a cook at the local hospital, reporting to work at 3 A.M. She has three children. One works as a carpenter; one was just laid off, and the 15-year-old is in school.
This is hardly a story of welfare dependency. The women of this household worked hard at low-paying jobs, took care of one another and raised their children. It is a story not only of race and poverty, but also of sexism -- desertion by husbands, lack of child support, giving boys, not girls, the opportunities to get ahead.
And when the elderly aunt needed care, it was the adult female relative -- again, typical -- rather than the men who assumed the burdens. This was when Emma Mae Martin had to go on welfare. What was she to do? Can you imagine the long-term care that might have been available to an elderly African-American woman in rural Georgia?
Ms. Martin then left welfare, again works hard, and her three children are in the labor market or in school. In other words, in the face of great odds, she did exactly what Charles Murray and other conservatives have asked: she completed school, she worked, she got married. She has suffered because of irresponsible men, male preferences, lack of an effective child-support system, lousy jobs and a lousy health-care system.
What can we say about her brother? He had the advantages. Yet he cruelly distorted her situation and publicly humiliated her and her children. Is this the kind of person we want as a Justice of the Supreme Court? In contrast, Emma Mae Martin has retained her dignity, her tolerance and generosity -- qualities one would like to see in a Justice. It's too bad she was not nominated for the Court. JOEL F. HANDLER Prof. of Law, University of California Los Angeles, July 8, 1991