At first it appeared to be another too common American story. A worker with a grievance goes on a deadly shooting spree, targeting his bosses and coworkers.
It quickly turned out that the killer was a former officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, who vowed to shoot as many of his former officers as he can, as well as their family members.
The LAPD says the killer is Christopher Dorner, who shot and killed a young woman who was the daughter of a former police captain, as well as her fiance. He then ambushed a police car, killing one officer and wounding another.
A huge manhunt was launched to find Dorner over the next week, with live coverage on TV. It ended after a shootout at a remote cabin, which left a sheriff’s deputy dead and another wounded. Police launched some sort of incendiary device into the cabin, setting it on fire.
Dorner apparently died in the blaze.
The LAPD said Dorner was angry he was fired in 2008 because he filed a false report against his training officer. Dorner had reported to his superiors that she had kicked a mentally ill suspect during an arrest that Dorner had witnessed.
The LAPD said that his claims against the training officer were found to be false after investigation. After multiple appeals by Dorner, this finding was upheld and he was justly fired.
It came to light early on during the manhunt that Dorner had issued a long manifesto on his Facebook page explaining his actions. The LAPD dismissed this as “the rantings of a clearly very sick individual”.
But soon Dorner’s manifesto spread through the social media. In it, he makes detailed accusations of rampant racism and corruption in the LAPD. These struck a chord, especially in the Black community.
Soon there was a storm of exchanges on email, Facebook and Twitter expressing agreement with or at least concern about Dorner’s charges.
The LAPD changed it tune somewhat. On the defensive, it began a media campaign to say the department had transformed itself from the days when it was known as notoriously racist and corrupt.
LAPD chief Charlie Beck said: “I am aware of the ghosts of the LAPD’s past and one of my biggest concerns is that they will be resurrected by Dorner’s allegations of racism within the department.”
“Therefore,” he said, “I feel we need to also publicly address Dorner’s allegations regarding his termination”. Beck said he would reopen the LAPD investigation of his firing. “I do it to reassure the public that their police department is transparent and fair in all things we do.”
In his manifesto, the African American Dorner explained the incident that led to his being fired. He said his training officer, who is white, while cuffing a suspect “kicked the suspect twice in the chest and once in the face. The kick to the face left a visible injury on the left check below the eye.
“Unfortunately, after reporting it to supervisors and investigated by [internal affairs] nothing was done. I had broken their supposed ‘Blue Line.’” About 10 months later, he was fired.
The father of the mentally ill person who was kicked corroborated Dorner’s charges in a recording presented to the internal police board that reviewed the case. However, his testimony was disregarded.
In the context of the upwelling of support of Dorner’s charges (although not of his killing rampage), the New York Times sent a reporter to the heart of the Black community, South Central Los Angeles.
The reporter found, “the accusations by the suspect … have struck a chord”.
One person he quotes, 65-year-old Hodari Sababu who has lived in South Central for 40 years, said: “We look at the police differently from the way you look at the police. In your community the police is there to protect and serve; in my community the police are there to harass and to insult and to kill if they get a chance.”
Charles Hutchenson, a 72-year-old tennis coach, “said he believed Mr. Dorner’s story that he had witnessed a fellow officer kick a suspect. ‘These things happen all the time. I truthfully think that he was wronged by the Police Department. I think that senior officer kicked that homeless guy, they do that all the time.’ ”
Two incidents that were briefly reported, but then dropped by the media, concerned the cops shooting three people in the course of the manhunt because they were in vehicles that resembled Dorner’s. They survived.
Two of these were Latino women, Emma Hernandez, 71, and her daughter. They hardly could be mistaken for Dorner, a six foot three Black man.
Commenting on this police shooting on Democracy Now!, Black journalist Davey D, also an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, said two cops approached the women’s truck and started shooting at the back of the truck without knowing who was inside. Neither did they identify themselves or giving any warnings or commands.
“And what you got was an apology and a new truck that’s being offered,” Davey D said. “How about police being arrested for negligence, you know?
“How about, you know, the transparency in the procedure that they followed or didn’t follow in terms of how they went about shooting innocent people?”
A white man was also shot by different police in a different neighborhood because his vehicle resembled Dorner’s. “So for many people,” Davey D. said, “when you hear that, that’s like, OK, shoot first, ask questions later. That goes back to a deep, sordid history in Los Angeles.”
He said the problems were not just with the LAPD, “but it was just last week that we had seven deputies fired from the LA Sheriff’s Department because they had a rogue gang called the Jump Out Boys, where they were celebrating the shooting of Blacks and Latinos”.
The LAPD covers the city of Los Angeles, the Sheriff’s Department the larger area of Los Angeles County.
“We have the situation in Anaheim, where you had seven people killed last year and protests that have gone on to this day. So you have a culture that of police misconduct or police terrorism, as many people call it, that exists all throughout Southern California.”
Dorner makes many detailed accusations of racism, brutality and corruption. These include, but are not limited to, white officers calling Black officers “n…..r” to their face, and of an incident he witnessed of officers jeering a Jewish officer by singing Nazi songs.
Davey D called for all the incidents in Dorner’s manifesto to be investigated, not just his charges around his dismissal. Any such investigation would have to be independent of a police department notorious for covering up its own, the “Blue Line”.
And it would have to include legitimate representatives of the Black and Latino communities.
Don’t hold your breath. Now that Dorner is dead, the “reopening” of the investigation of his firings by the LAPD itself will most likely fade into the background.
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]
Journalist Davey D speaks to Democracy Now! on the issues raised by Christopher Dorner and the LAPD's response.