by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Like the rest of the country, I found myself curious about the unfortunate events involving late Christopher Dorner. He was, like myself, an “angry black man.” He also appeared to have a good reason to be angry, since the LAPD is one of the most notoriously racist and abusive police departments in the country. But the way Chris expressed his anger was a bit unconventional, turning him into one of the most wanted human beings in American history.
Here are a set of honest thoughts I had about Dorner, as I watched this law-abiding patriot transformed into an alleged danger and menace to society. May he rest in peace, for it appeared that this poor brother had little peace in life:
1) Was the LAPD trying to kill him? First, there was the incident during which a 71-year old woman found her truck (and herself) riddled with bullets by overzealous LAPD officers who didn’t seem to want to give her a chance to surrender. I’m sure that if they’d stopped the old woman and asked her to “come out with your hands up,” she wouldn’t have given them much resistance. Then, of course, there was the cabin that the LAPD “accidentally” burned down with Dorner inside it, despite significant evidence that there was a plan to burn him from the beginning (how can you claim that it was an accident after throwing something called “burners” at the cabin? Aren’t burners usually meant to burn something?). My question is: Why were they so quick to go for the kill? The convenient reality here is that dead men don’t talk.
2) Nearly conscious black person can identify with Dorner, including myself: As much as we might want to pretend that we have nothing in common with Dorner, the fact is that most black Americans know the pain that he experienced: Being fired from your job for no reason, being told that you were “out of line” when you actually tried to do the right thing, watching police do horrible things to the people you love, without you being able to do anything about it. Yes, Dorner was an uncommon man, but he went through a very common set of racist experiences. The fact that he chose to retaliate with violence should NOT be used as an excuse to delegitimize the concerns brought forth in his manifesto.
3) Chris Dorner and Barack Obama represent two Black Americas: As commentator Yvette Carnell stated, “Having one black man on national television as the most powerful human being on the planet, and another as a dangerous fugitive on the same night is a telling way to describe the dual reality for millions of black people across America.” The election of a bi-racial president served as a tremendous source of pride, but this election did nothing to take away the day-to-day struggle that many of us feel while trying to breathe underneath the massive weight of unaddressed, pervasive, institutionalized racism. The Obama family’s success has been wonderful for some, but the majority of black America continues to struggle.
4) The LAPD should be made to answer for Dorner’s manifesto: It’s not as if anything that Dorner said about the inner workings of the LAPD lacks credibility. Before he died, Chris was detailed and precise in his description of what he saw behind the blue wall. The efforts to kill Dorner before he could talk and to write him off as a deranged lunatic are really meant to distract us from real and meaningful evidence that the LAPD is what it has always been: A corrupt and racist institution, sometimes built upon terrorizing black people rather than protecting them. Even one of Dorner’s fellow officers is speaking out, stating that nearly everything Chris said is absolutely correct. Is the other officer going to be labeled a lunatic too?
5) Dorner didn’t appear to be crazy, just obsessive: The media’s decision to portray Dorner as a maniac is largely due to our desire to make sense of a situation where someone has killed for reasons we do not understand. In all of his fanaticism, Dorner reminded me of many outstanding people I know: The wide-eyed All-pro linebacker who is determined to stop you from scoring a touchdown at all costs, the overzealous Secret Service Officer who will take a bullet for the president in a second, or the angry 50-year old woman whose husband left her for the 25-year old babysitter. We’ve seen this kind of rage before, but we don’t always see this kind of rage in the face of a trained killer. For anyone hell bent on maintaining racist oppression, the only thing scarier than an angry black man is a highly intelligent angry black man who is not afraid to use a gun.
6) Killing is only immoral if people don’t think it’s for the right reasons: Christopher Dorner was trained to kill by the United States government. Nearly every tactic he used to evade and attack police officers would have earned him numerous medals had they been used against soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan (in fact, Dorner had received awards for his military service). So, the idea that someone is crazy because they choose to kill doesn’t make sense, given that we have hundreds of thousands of trained killers in our country. The difference with Dorner is that he did not possess a popular cause that gave him popular permission to retaliate against his enemies, and even I would not have suggested that he kill in response to his frustrations. At the same time, the irresponsible actions of Dorner’s superiors created a man who had nothing to lose. This was an unfortunate waste of talent, and reminds us that racism hurts all of us.
7) Dorner actually reminds people of what it means to be a soldier: For every rapper who claims to be “gangsta,” they should probably realize that they don’t know the first thing about what that term really means. As Dorner explains in his manifesto, the LAPD should be most concerned about him because a) he was well-trained, b) he was determined to meet his objectives, and c) he was willing to die. There was a reason Dorner was so readily-admitted into the military and police establishment; it was because he was a perfect fit. Had he committed to socially-acceptable ways of expressing his outrage, he could have been viewed as a great man.
8) The million dollar reward and use of drones to find Dorner tells us something about police elitism: One of the biggest reasons for persistent brutality and disrespect by rogue cops is this belief that an officer’s life is more valuable than the rest of us. There is also a false perception that officers are more honest than regular citizens, which makes it difficult to get governments to take brutality claims seriously. Had Dorner killed a bunch of random people who were not police officers (or related to them), the reward wouldn’t have been one-tenth of what it was. Had he been wanted for killing a group of black people, there probably would never have been a reward issued at all and scant resources would have been used to try to capture him. Even though several people knew who killed my best friend Greg Wilkins 17 years ago, police barely looked for his murderer. Police don’t usually work for black people, and typically work against us.
9) I would have loved for Dorner to have a chance to tell his story: Of course we all knew that the LAPD wasn’t going to bring Dorner in alive. I knew that from the moment they shot up a 71-year old woman without even giving her an appropriate opportunity to identify herself. Also, bringing Dorner in and convicting him would have forced the LAPD to pay the million dollar reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction” of Dorner (but, conveniently for the LAPD, dead men don’t get convicted). But had Dorner been able to talk, he could have helped blow the roof off of one of the most corrupt police organizations in American history. Many lives would have been saved in the process.
10) Dorner is not the biggest killer in all of this: As much as the media will surely make Dorner out to be the sole bad guy, the reality is that the LAPD has killed more innocent people than Christopher Dorner ever could. So, for the LAPD to talk about Dorner as a crazed killer, the fact is that this would be the pot calling the kettle black. How many people have been killed or falsely convicted due to LAPD practices? How many grieving families are out there who’ve been victimized by rogue cops within this organization? How many good cops have had their careers ruined for speaking out about the corruption? Now that Christopher Dorner is dead, the world may never know.
My final question is one that I am not sure how to answer: What if you were a black police officer who confronted Dorner, and he said, “I’m not going to hurt you, I’m only angry at them for the things that you and I both know that they’ve been doing to our people.” What would you do? Most of us don’t quite know the answer to that question, and I am one of them.