Vigilantism Reborn in the Manhunt for Christopher Dorner


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The hellish climax of the manhunt for Christopher Dorner, the former police officer who waged a one-man vendetta against the LAPD, has generated a significant backlash from sections of the American public that object to his apparent execution without trial when the cabin where he was hiding was burnt to the ground.

On Saturday, February 16, dozens of protesters gathered outside police headquarters in Los Angeles with signs calling for the clearing of his name. According to the LA Times, they believed Dorner’s claims of racism and unfair treatment, and were protesting police corruption and the conduct of the manhunt.

Michael Nam, a former Marine, held a sign showing a tombstone and the words “RIP Habeas Corpus.” He told the LA Times he was disturbed that Dorner was given no chance to surrender after he had barricaded himself in the cabin and that it was “pretty obvious” police wanted him dead.

A Facebook page “We Stand with Christopher Dorner” has gathered over 27,000 likes to date and has over 77,000 talking about it. Other Facebook and Twitter posts, while not condoning his revenge killings, express support for Dorner’s stated aim to expose racism and corruption in the LAPD.

The manhunt for Dorner involved more than 1,000 police from more than a dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The Guardian reported: “Twitchy police shot up two vehicles thinking Dorner was inside, hitting a 71-year-old woman in the back and slightly injuring two other innocents. Hundreds of other police guarded 50 colleagues and their families believed to be on the fugitive’s hitlist.”

Due vigilance became vigilantism by the LAPD, shown in the fusillade of shots they unleashed on the senior woman’s truck. The LA Times reported that that at least seven officers fired their weapons, striking the truck at least a dozen times as well as nearby cars, trees and garage doors.

An Instagram of an African-American man wearing a T-shirt that said “Not Chris Dorner. Please Do Not Shoot,” went viral while the search was underway. BAGNews commented: “You wouldn’t have a picture like this go viral … unless American citizens were worried about ‘the man’ and the militarization of our ‘civil defenders.’ In that regard, I look at a photo like this (speaking truth to power through public signs and statements) as a continuation of what drove the Occupy/ ‘We are the 99%’ movement.”

Although police denied intentionally burning down the cabin, deputies fired at least seven incendiary teargas grenades through its windows. One deputy was overheard on a police scanner shouting “Burn that fucking house down!” Another voice exclaimed “Fucking burn this motherfucker!” The deputies were apparently concerned that Dorner could be hiding in the basement, and decided to let the fire burn completely so that there would be no chance he survived.

When photos of the burnt-out cabin were released, BAGNews noted: “If there is anything to be gleaned from the photos from Big Bear, with the smoldered foundation and the military vehicles, it’s that the scene could as well be a photo of a drone strike. And the authorities are surprised by the sympathy for Dorner as extra-judicial killing comes home.” An MSNBC reporter asked a witness: “Were you worried when you learned that Christopher Dorner was so close to your house?” The witness replied: “Actually, I was just afraid of the cops.”

Dorner’s claim that he was fired for reporting incidents of police brutality and the rampant racism that permeates the LAPD, which he said had gotten worse since the police beating of Rodney King in 1991, has resonated with the public. In his online manifesto Dorner describes how he reported a fellow officer for kicking a suspect in the head after he was handcuffed. But the department then retaliated by claiming that Dorner lied about the incident. Although the panel that heard his case was compromised by the inclusion of officers who were personal friends of the reported individual, it refused to recuse them and terminated his employment.

His account of how his complaints about racist comments isolated him is compelling: “While traveling back to the station in a 12 passenger van I heard Magana refer to another individual as a nigger…. I told Magana not to use that word again. I explained that it was a well-known offensive word that should not be used by anyone. He replied, ‘I’ll say it when I want’.

“Officer Burdios, a friend of his, also stated that he would say nigger when he wanted. At that point I jumped over my front passenger seat and two other officers where I placed my hands around Burdios’ neck and squeezed. I stated to Burdios, ‘Don’t fucking say that’. At that point there was pushing and shoving and we were separated by several other officers. … The sad thing about this incident was that when Detective Ty from internal affairs investigated this incident only (1) officer (unknown) in the van other than myself had statements consistent with what actually happened. The other six officers all stated they heard nothing and saw nothing.”

Other former LAPD officers have published statements confirming Dorner’s allegation that the department’s disciplinary system retaliates against those who try to expose misconduct. One former officer, Joe Jones, said he experienced the same kind of racist harassment by the department. Another, Brian Bentley, was fired after publishing a book detailing misconduct and racism in the department and told EUR web that he not only believed Dorner’s claims, he had lived through the same experiences. “When the department terminated you, they intentionally tried to ruin your life,” he said.

Dorner joined the US Navy and then the LAPD out of idealism, wanting to make a difference in his community. It was because he actually believed in the American Dream that the shattering of his career when he refused to participate in racist discrimination and cover-ups led to his turning to a vengeance crusade. As Dorner points out in his manifesto, minorities are only integrated within state forces if they internalize and participate in racist violence themselves.

Dormer’s case is a watershed moment: extra-judicial killings have now been imported back into the U.S. from the so-called War on Terror. It remains to be seen how the segment of American society that re-elected Obama will attempt to contain the militarized police departments across the country that mirror the vigilantism of the Wild West, terrorizing and not protecting those within the community that they theoretically serve.

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Filed under African Americans, Dorner, occupy wall street, police presence

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