The movie Zero Dark Thirty’s portrayal of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden took Pakistani compounds, theaters, and award ceremonies by storm. Bin Laden was the bad guy. The 9/11 attacks bin Laden directed killed almost 3,000 Americans. This movie told the story of hard-working, patriotic Americans who spent years to make sure justice was served and the bad guy got killed.
Another newsworthy, murderous manhunt also recently captured America’s focus. Christopher Dorner, the now-famed cop killer from Los Angeles, evaded authorities for over a week before a pyrotechnic tear gas canister set fire to the isolated cabin he was hiding in. The police say that was “not their intention.” The police claim that they were trying to drive Dorner into the open with the tear gas. He shot himself before the entire house actually caught flame.
Though the Dorner story is nowhere near the national or human tragedy that the bin Laden saga was, its brief moment in the limelight has been replete with heartbreak and twists. Five people — including Dorner himself — died before it was all over. Dorner shot Monica Quan, daughter of former Los Angeles Police Department Commander Randal Quan, and her fiance Keith Lawrence. Mr. Quan was the first Asian American to reach the rank of commander and Dorner’s former lawyer. The other two victims were cops killed in pursuit of or in a shootout with Dorner. Their names were, respectively, Michael Crain and Jeremiah MacKay. May they all rest in peace.
But unlike with bin Laden, what prompted these shootings was not a lust for Holy War, nor the hate of freedom, nor problems with American troop presence in Saudi Arabia. Dorner was instead a patriotic, decorated Navy lieutenant, whose motives were more personal and high-minded. Supposedly, his manifesto is online for all to read. If we are to accept this document as his, it contains a wealth of insight into this killer’s mind. The piece touches on topics as disparate as the killer’s opinion on gun control (pro), the Westboro Baptist Church (con), the Walking Dead (pro), and the women he’s had sex with over his lifetime (mixed reviews).
But amid the expletives, tangents, and the multiple rants on gay rights, the psychotic, tortured persona of a leftist-vet-turned-cop-killer shines through. Dorner, as described in the media and his own report, was fired from the LAPD for allegedly filing a false police report. (Mr. Quan was his attorney in this case.) He cited one of his colleagues for kicking a mentally ill suspect in the face and chest while the suspect was subdued and handcuffed, but evidence was lacking and Dorner was promptly dismissed. Regardless of whether the report was valid, the key is that Dorner viewed himself as a whistleblower fired for snitching in the hush-hush environment of the LAPD. An African American, he also claimed racial bias was a factor in his firing.
For these and other perceived slights and corruption, Dorner went on his spree. Quoting Thomas Jefferson, he said in his manifesto that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” During his crusade he boasted that “orphanages will be making a comeback in the 21st century” because of his murderous attacks. The LAPD — apparently an abuser of “innocent citizens,” an heir to the legacy of the Rodney King beatings and the department that fired him for reporting corruption — had to pay.
So, having a rifle and small arms badges, along with survival training, from his military tenure, he evaded and attacked cops for about 10 days after shooting Ms. Quan and her fiance, bringing the nation’s attention to him. The LAPD was put under the spotlight, as were Dorner’s motives. The cop killer and the cops were the center of attention on mainstream media for a seemingly endless week and a half.
The tough question inevitably arose: Was any part of Dorner’s rampage defensible? If there’s anything that America should and does hate, it’s cop killers. But if the cops are corrupt, the story gets muddled. If the arbiters of the law are kicking mentally handicapped suspects in the face, your opinion become less clear.
Dorner pleaded his case twice in court. He lost both times, and his career fell with those losses. His name was sullied and the cops he perceived as corrupt were still on the beat and getting promotions.
Is ending a life ever justified? I personally want to put myself out there as saying no, though Christopher Dorner committed atrocious evils. But let us give this man his day at least in the court of public opinion, since he was denied such a hearing with an actual judge.
How is this story relevant to Brown? The Department of Public Safety spends most of its time answering noise complaints, letting students into locked doors, and generally providing a more comforting campus to live and walk on. Let’s say, in an alternate universe, that it is an unpopular institution with a shady past. It was at times so insanely corrupt as to be in the pay of local drug dealers, committing armed robberies, and beating minority suspects for pure sadistic pleasure. This lead to campus-wide race riots. These days, it still oppresses minority communities around school, beats already subdued victims, and promotes those who commit these terrible felonies.
You are angry. You have personally seen your friends get beaten. And because you tried to tell someone about it, DPS is getting you kicked out of Brown, the institution you worked your whole life to get into.
You still wouldn’t kill someone. But experiencing such systemic, intractable wrongs and seeing them with your own eyes definitely puts you in a more aggressive, confrontational state of mind.
Dorner took this push and with it started killing family members and cops who most likely never committed a crime in their lives. He did wrong. He should have exhausted all legal avenues in his power and then exhausted them again. Attempt everything and then some before resorting to physical violence. But he made an immoral calculus in a position none of us would like to be put in, and four innocent people paid the price.
In the course of their search, the LAPD was also not blameless. Putting aside the fact that they may have actually beaten the mentally handicapped, they were also in questionable legal standing when they searched over 400 homes in the area with the probable cause of “there’s a killer on the loose.” Without warning, they mistakenly shot at two vehicles that they thought contained Dorner, injuring a Hispanic mother-daughter pair and barely missing one Caucasian male going to surf. Thankfully, the offending cops are now reportedly off the streets.
But the LAPD’s methods certainly did not help calm the citizenry during Dorner’s own reign of terror. The department’s history of corruption, from the 1991 Rodney King beating to the late ’90s Rampart scandal — in which 70 officers were implicated in charges ranging from being personal hitmen for hip-hop artist Suge Knight, to dealing drugs, even to killing Biggie Smalls — to the prevalent institutionalized racism today, gave partial credence to Dorner’s claims. Those past injustices, and a general societal obsession with vigilante heroes, probably lead to the vocal contingent of Dorner sympathizers who accept that what Dorner did was wrong but understand some measure of his anger with the LAPD.
The tale of this labyrinthine manhunt may at some future date be dramatized by Hollywood and recognized by the Academy. Hopefully, since the LAPD reopened his case, Dorner’s story will be fully fleshed out in the coming years, and a more holistic picture of this self-proclaimed vigilante will arise. Since he made very clear in his manifesto that, even as he vilified the police department for racism and injustice, his focus was getting his “name cleared,” it is sad he chose this terrible path. Hopefully, if nothing else, Dorner’s death will lead to smarter police policies, more intense oversight of the use of force in the field, and generally more scrutiny of the LAPD and its practices. The lives of the innocent cops and family members lost in this tragic episode, however, can never be replaced. So while we hope that Dorner’s perception of the police was wrong — and if it isn’t, that this tragedy spurs the will for reform — let us pray for his victims and their families and friends, and be thankful for the blessings we have.