I have been thoroughly obsessed with the Christopher Dorner story since it broke last week. As I type this post, the morning after the cabin he was allegedly hiding in burned down, I have countless other windows in my browser open to Dorner articles. Are the charred human remains recovered at the scene his? Could he have escaped? Who set the fire? At this point, I am certain that I have read every single tweet ever tweeted on Dorner, from those venerating him as a American civil-rights hero to those deriding his supporters and everything in between. Having read his manifesto in its entirety, I didn’t find it all that deranged. What I am puzzled by, though, is the idea that so many people simply cannot wrap their heads around why Dorner was able to garner so much support from the public.
For the record, I would not label Dorner a hero. Having waited until he lost his job and his livelihood and his reputation before he took action against a supposedly intolerably corrupt organization like the LAPD would make him the most selfish hero ever if one were to actually consider him a hero. In my opinion, Dorner is just a heavily armed man with a serious vendetta.
While Dorner is no hero, I do not think he has lied about his story. If the LAPD abuses inventoried by Dorner in his manifesto aren’t actually true, they certainly are familiar enough to sound true. In his manifesto, Dorner describes specific incidents of police brutality he has witnessed and also the larger, oppressive organizational culture of the LAPD, which routinely includes retaliation against whistleblowers and those who report misconduct. Dorner focuses on detailing the situation that led to his termination from the LAPD: a drawn-out bureaucratic ordeal that began with him reporting an officer for the use of excessive force in the arrest of a mentally disabled man. Unfortunately, all of the abuses Dorner describes in his manifesto sound familiar because they are common, especially in Los Angeles. A number of minority officers have come forward recently with stories similar to Dorner’s. One such story comes from former LAPD officer, Brian Bentley, who wrote a book about his experiences, Honor Without Integrity. (Of course, the publication of that book resulted in Bentley being the target of retaliation and harassment by the LAPD.) While most people find ways to cope with the injustices they’ve suffered, Dorner didn’t. In the presence of so much injustice, both within and by the police force, it is all too easy for some observers to interpret Dorner’s vengeance as justice-seeking behavior. However, on some level, conceptually if not legally, revenge is justice.
In a televised interview last week, a former superior officer, Chief Bratton, referred to Dorner as an “injustice collector,” a term used by profilers to describe someone who holds grudges and is always keeping score. The fact that, in his manifesto, Dorner writes in abundant detail about experiences of racism and discrimination–some dating back to his grade school days–in some sense corroborates Bratton’s characterization of Dorner as an injustice collector. But, what people like Bratton do not realize is that when you are a minority in this country, you receive an automatic membership into the Injustice Collector Club at birth–actually, I would call it the Social Injustice Collector Club. You inherit the injustices of your forefathers and foremothers and carry them with you. You try to reduce the ones your children will inherit. If you are strong enough, you find ways to shoulder the burden. Do a good job at it and racists will smile at you and will call you one of the “good ones.” But, if you dare mention just how heavy that burden can be at times, be prepared to be called everything from a complainer to a perpetual victim to a commie Marxist to a reverse-racist (whatever the hell that means). The reality is, some people will never know just how real and heavy the weight of institutionalized racism is. But to those of us who do know, hearing and seeing someone else finally snap under the pressure of it all is not all that shocking.
There are a number of Pro-Dorner forums, websites and Facebook pages. Go to any of these sites, read some of the comments on various posts, and you will see that along with people voicing support for Dorner, there generally also is a fair number of people damning the supporters, accusing supporters of being sick, dumb, even liberal (gasp!). Crazy. Wacko. Psycho. Nutjob. These are just some of the labels people use when they can’t understand someone else’s perspective. Usually, it’s not the case that the “crazies” have a position that is so immeasurably complex that it could not have been constructed by a sane and sound mind. Rather, we are more likely to label people as crazy or stupid simply because their worldview negates some aspect of our own worldview. It’s not that people can’t understand something, it’s that they refuse to make an effort to understand because doing so would shake the foundation of their reality.
The idea that Dorner appears to some as a valiant super hero isn’t indicative of anyone’s intelligence or mental health status. The fact that he has been able to garner so much support is indicative, though, of the level of hopelessness civilians have with the system. In the United States today, more people are incarcerated per capita than in any other country in the world. Land of the free? Quite the opposite. To those satisfied with the status quo, the men in blue administer law and order, keeping America safe. To those of us in lower tax brackets, with different colors of skin, from different countries of origin, with untreated addictions and mental illness, to our youth, the police are a hostile occupying force in our communities. The young POC wishing to enter law enforcement, believing they can make a difference, either acculturate to the dominant police culture or they leave the system after they witness just how unbalanced and unfair the system is. Hence, there is little to no change in the organizational culture of law enforcement and we see the same kinds of civil-rights abuses over and over and over again, from one century into the next. Based solely on the record number of incarcerated people today, some could make the argument that damage done to our communities by the police now is worse than any other time in history. Excessive force or not, more and more of our families and neighbors get carted away to prison each day.
It is such a dismal situation that the first man who snaps off, grabs a gun, and declares war against the police looks like a hero.
If only it were that simple.