A fundraiser created on behalf of the parents of former UChicago student Charles “Soji” Thomas has raised over $7,500 in one week.
The fundraiser, started by one of Thomas’s college friends, aims to alleviate the financial burden on Thomas’s family relating to his ongoing legal case.
In April 2018, Thomas was shot and wounded by an officer of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) following what his family describes as a severe mental health episode linked with his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Thomas is facing several charges for the incident.
Then, in September of this year, Thomas disappeared for two weeks before he was ultimately located in Indiana. At the time, Thomas was on house arrest after being released on bail during his ongoing trial. The disappearance violated the terms of his release, and his bond was revoked.
Thomas is currently being held in the Cook County Jail.
Thomas’s parents, Kathy and Wendell Thomas, live and work in Los Angeles but are trading off long stays in Chicago in order to visit their son. Through the fundraiser, supporters are seeking to cover some of the Thomas family’s expenses, including airline tickets, a place to stay in Chicago, and long leaves away from work.
In an interview with The Maroon, Thomas’s mother Kathy Thomas said “I’m so thankful and appreciative, especially of all the students who have shown their care and concern and donated. It just means so much to me that students are willing to help out.”
Kathy Thomas criticized the University and the police’s handling of her son’s case.
“The way to deal with mental illness is not putting people in jail,” she said. “As of right now, since he’s been in Cook County—I think he was transferred there just over a week ago—he has not received any of his medication or seen a physician.”
Kathy Thomas’s concerns are echoed by many on campus.
When asked for comment, the student activist group #CareNotCops referred to a May 2019 statement released following the fatal shooting of Myles Frazier by Chicago Police. Frazier, who was bipolar, was fatally shot by Chicago Police Department SWAT teams in an incident just south of campus on 61st Street and Kenwood Avenue.
“We maintain that police do not create safety. They only perpetuate harm,” the statement reads. “Real safety looks like centering care and acknowledging people’s capacity for growth and transformation. Real safety is created by building healthy, thriving communities, not by policing them.”
When asked for comment, University spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan said that “since the time of the incident with Charles Thomas, the University of Chicago community’s thoughts have been with all of the individuals involved and their families.”
Kathy Thomas also shared concerns about the University’s handling of her son’s mental health care.
“Kids, if they’re in the throes of maybe their first manic/psychotic episode, they really don’t totally understand what’s happening with them,” she said. “But they don’t quite know how to help themselves. By basically giving him a list of people to contact outside the University and making them wade through all of the insurance and everything, that’s not helpful. Because at that point, the student is at their most vulnerable.”
In his statement, spokesperson McSwiggan described the variety of mental health services made available to UChicago students through Student Health and Counseling Services—services that he said will be expanded following the opening of a new student wellness center in 2020 and continued expansion of counseling staff.
Further, on the issue of University policing, McSwiggan said, “all UCPD officers are required to receive 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training in addition to regular professional training and development programs. Supporting student safety and well-being is of paramount importance.”