Monday, February 11, 2013

The equal opportunity avenging angel

SOMEWHERE IN Hollywood right now, a screenwriter is writing a treatment for a feature film whose central character would have seemed too unbelievable for words (or film) if not for the fact of his frightening, dangerous existence in real life. But the best writers in the movie capital of America will be stymied (for now) by the third act playing itself out somewhere, everywhere in California. And possibly beyond.

Christopher Jordan Dorner, this is your life.

Over the last seven days, the search for Dorner, a suspect in three murders has widened beyond the immediate region of Los Angeles and its immediate environs. Authorities are unsure where he is, even as the city of Los Angeles announced on Sunday a $1 million reward for his capture.

But for law enforcement officers in the state, and especially the Los Angeles Police Department, Dorner, 33, is a special problem. A product of the paramilitary experience of three years in the LAPD, and, earlier, more than a decade in the fully military experience of the United States Navy in wartime, Dorner was one of their own.

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His targeted killings; his rationale for murder; his expertise in weapons training, tactics and technology, intelligence and survival skills; and a vendetta against the LAPD for what he calls an unjust dismissal from the force — all of it’s been brought to light in what’s being called “the Dorner manifesto,” a long, sporadically focused but passionately delivered and supremely self-confident statement widely available online.

By turns autobiography and treasure trove of military terminology, expansive rant and statement of principles, music appreciation and last will and testament, the manifesto is chilling in its objectives. One of them is now impossible to achieve: the restoration of Dorner’s good name.

He writes: “A name is more than just a noun, verb, or adjective. It’s your life, your legacy, your journey, sacrifices, and everything you’ve worked hard for every day of your life as and adolescent, young adult and adult. Don’t let anybody tarnish it when you know you’ve live up to your own set of ethics and personal ethos.”

BY NOW the story has become Internet legend: Dorner, a deeply experienced Navy reservist and LAPD officer, notified the department of an improper use-of-force incident he witnessed. Dorner returned to the LAPD in July 2007 after a deployment to Bahrain, and worked at the department’s Harbor division. In August 2007, Dorner, accused his training officer, Teresa Evans, of kicking a schizophrenic man three times, once in the face, during an arrest in San Pedro. After reporting the incident, Dorner said, “nothing was done.”

Dorner continues: “10 months later on 6/25/08, after already successfully completing probation, acquiring a basic Post Certificate, and Intermediate Post Certificate, I was relieved of duty by the LAPD while assigned to patrol at Southwest division. It is clear as day that the department retaliated toward me for reporting Evans for kicking Mr. Christopher Gettler. The department stated that I had lied and made up the report that Evans had kicked the suspect.”

Subsequent appeals went nowhere. That frustration with “the thin blue line” and the code of silence within the storied department lit the fuse that exploded on Feb. 4, when Dorner allegedly killed two people in Irvine, one of them the daughter of Randal Quan, the former LAPD officer who represented Dorner in the disciplinary hearings that led to his dismissal.

Dorner allegedly shot and killed a Riverside police officer early on Feb. 7. Chief Sergio Diaz of the Riverside Police Department said Dorner pulled up alongside a patrol car idling at a traffic light in Riverside and shot them, killing one officer and injuring the other seated beside him.

Since then California authorities have been consumed with finding Dorner, looking in an area in the mountains around Big Bear Lake, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. “He could be anywhere at this point, and that's why we're searching door to door,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told The Associated Press.

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DORNER’S MANIFESTO has harsh words for his former department, a harsh analysis that dovetails with a view of the LAPD that prevailed in minority communities not so long ago.

“The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse. The consent decree should never have been lifted. The only thing that has evolved from the consent decree is those officers involved in the Rampart scandal and Rodney King incidents have since promoted to supervisor, commanders, and command staff, and executive positions. ...”

“This department has not changed from the Daryl Gates and Mark Fuhrman days. Those officers are still employed and have all promoted to Command staff and supervisory positions. I will correct this error. Are you aware that an officer (a rookie/probationer at the time) seen on the Rodney King videotape striking Mr. King multiple times with a baton on 3/3/91 is still employed by the LAPD and is now a Captain on the police department?

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“No one is saying you can’t be prejudiced or a bigot,” he writes. “We are all human and hold prejudices. If you state that you don’t have prejudices, your lying! But, when you act on it and victimize innocent citizens and fellow innocent officers, than that is a concern.”

Dorner offers a chillingly practical perspective of police work. He suggests that even the grisly work is all about the Benjamins: “I’ve heard many officers who state they see dead victims as ATV’s, Waverunners, RV’s and new clothes for their kids. Why would you shed a tear for them when they in return crack a smile for your loss because of the impending extra money they will receive in their next paycheck for sitting at your loved ones crime scene of 6 hours because of the overtime they will accrue.

“They take photos of your loved ones' recently deceased bodies with their cellphones and play a game of who has the most graphic dead body of the night with officers from other divisions. This isn’t just the 20-something-year-old officers, this is the 50-year-old officers with significant time on the job as well who participate.”

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DORNER’S ultimate gauntlet throwdown is chilling in its implications. The language in the following excerpts is protracted, convoluted but clear: Bring it on:

“The attacks will stop when the department states the truth about my innocence, PUBLICLY!!! I will not accept any type of currency/goods in exchange for the attacks to stop, nor do i want it. I want my name back, period. There is no negotiation. ...

“I know your TTP’s, (techniques, tactics, and procedures). Any threat assessments you generate will be useless. ... I will mitigate any of your attempts at preservation. ORM [Operational Risk Management] is my friend. I will mitigate all risks, threats and hazards. I assure you that Incident Command Posts will be target rich environments. KMA-367 license plate frames are great target indicators and make target selection even easier. [KMA-367 was for decades the FCC call sign for LAPD radio transmissions.] ... I have nothing to lose. My personal casualty means nothing. ... [Y]ou can not prevail against an enemy combatant who has no fear of death. An enemy who embraces death is a lose, lose situation for their enemy combatants. Hopefully you analyst[s] have done your homework. ...

“I am the reason TAC [tactical] alert was established. I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty. ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] is my strength and your weakness. You will now live the life of the prey. Your RD’s and homes away from work will be my AO [areas of operation] and battle space. I will utilize every tool within INT [intelligence] collections that I learned from NMITC [Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center] in Dam Neck [Virginia]. You have misjudged a sleeping giant. There is no conventional threat assessment for me.”

“... ACM [Afghan Anti-Coaliltion Militia], AAF, AQAP [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula], AQIM [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] and AQIZ [al-Qaida in Iraq under Zarqawi] have nothing on me. Do not deploy airships or gunships. SA-7 Manpads [surface to air missiles] will be waiting. As you know I also own Barrett .50′s [almost certainly the Barrett M82 or M107 sniper rifles with .50-caliber ammo] so your APC [armored personnel carriers] are defunct and futile.”

“I will utilize every bit of small arms training, demolition ordnance, and survival training I've been given. ...

“I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty ... I have the strength and benefits of being unpredictable, unconventional, and unforgiving.”

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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said last week that the case that Dorner documented in his manifesto had been properly handled in the department's review board proceedings.

“That case was thoroughly adjudicated. It went through several levels of review up to the point where even a civilian representative listened to the entirety of the case. You will find Dorner's statements to be self-serving and the statements of somebody who was extremely unhappy in his lot in life,” Beck said.

When asked what he’d tell Dorner, Beck replied: "I would tell him to turn himself in. This has gone far enough. No one else needs to die."

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DORNER IS having none of it, and is apparently ready to impart his brand of justice across the board, playing no favorites. He writes: “I am here to change and make policy. The culture of LAPD versus the community and honest/good officers needs to and will change. I am here to correct and calibrate your morale compasses to true north.

“Those Caucasian officers who join South Bureau divisions (77th, SW, SE, and Harbor) with the sole intent to victimize minorities who are uneducated, and unaware of criminal law, civil law, and civil rights. You prefer the South bureau because a use of force/deadly force is likely and the individual you use UOF on will likely not report it. You are a high value target.

“Those Black officers in supervisory ranks and pay grades who stay in south bureau (even though you live in the valley or OC) for the sole intent of getting retribution toward subordinate caucasian officers for the pain and hostile work environment their elders inflicted on you as probationers (P-1′s) and novice P-2’s. You are a high value target. You perpetuated the cycle of racism in the department as well. You breed a new generation of bigoted caucasian officer when you belittle them and treat them unfairly.

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“Those Hispanic officers who victimize their own ethnicity because they are new immigrants to this country and are unaware of their civil rights. You call them wetbacks to their face and demean them in front of fellow officers of different ethnicities so that you will receive some sort of acceptance from your colleagues. I’m not impressed. Most likely, your parents or grandparents were immigrants at one time, but you have forgotten that. You are a high value target.

“Those lesbian officers in supervising positions who go to work, day in day out, with the sole intent of attempting to prove your misandrist authority (not feminism) to degrade male officers. You are a high value target.

“Those Asian officers who stand by and observe everything I previously mentioned other officers participate in on a daily basis but you say nothing, stand for nothing and protect nothing. Why? Because of your usual saying,  'I……don’t like conflict.’ You are a high value target as well.

“Those of you who 'go along to get along' have no backbone and destroy the foundation of courage. You are the enablers of those who are guilty of misconduct. You are just as guilty as those who break the code of ethics and oath you swore.”

In the Dorner cosmology, vengeance will be an equal opportunity experience.

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THERE’S NO moral equivalence here. Whatever value and weight Dorner’s arguments may have had otherwise, murder changes everything in the equation. That’s the unfortunate consequence of his actions: A possibly warranted fresh scrutiny of the Los Angeles Police Department, its standards and practices — and any hope of a Justice Department revisitation of the consent decree imposed in the wake of the Rodney King beating — will be more difficult because of the necessary focus on allowing the LAPD and other regional agencies to conduct the public's business by capturing Dorner.

His killing or capture, especially if it’s done in relative speed, may (in the short term) blunt his assertions about the department.

If Dorner dies, the most extravagantly and dangerously outspoken opponent of the LAPD in history would be eliminated — not by any extralegal street action by the LAPD, but simply by the LAPD doing what law enforcement’s supposed to do. Dorner’s very actions may undercut his claim to credibility. Efforts to effect his capture only burnish the bona fides of the department he maligns.

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But that's a short-term assessment. Even as Dorner remains at large, there’s been a shift of attention toward the LAPD itself.

Dr. Boyce Watkins, blogging at Black Blue Dog, wrote this on Saturday: “[W]hat we must ask ourselves is ‘Why did this otherwise law-abiding man get pushed to the point where he felt that he had nothing left to lose?’ We’d be entirely simple-minded to just say that he had no reason to be outraged by what he saw within the ranks of the LAPD, where thousands of innocent people have been killed or incarcerated due to the department’s long-documented disrespect for other human beings. It’s not as if any of Dorner’s allegations are outrageous or out of the question, and it’s also not as if this man has a history of behaving this way. ...”

“[T]he LAPD should be the subject of a thorough investigation to ensure that their historically corrupt and insidious culture doesn’t lead to more loss of life and/or the creation of another Christopher Dorner. The fact is that this department put all of our lives in danger by allowing an otherwise honest, decent citizen to become so frustrated with racism, disrespect and police brutality that he felt the need to take the law into his own hands.”

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THAT CONTRARY school of thought is making its way around the Internet, with new Facebook pages from people actually supporting Dorner — not backing the actions he’s taken, but recognizing the frustration behind those actions. The expression of these feelings by people online usually involved variations of Chris Rock’s celebrated reconciliation of opposing beliefs: I don’t agree with what you did, “but I understand.”

Sadly, some are even comfortable positioning Dorner as a benevolent outlaw, a Robin Hood with Bushmasters, a good man put in a bad position and now roaming the land as a shadowy force for righteousness. Dorner’s status as an African American — one of many the LAPD has a history of victimizing — imparts an additional bitter emphasis to the online discussion.

“[K]eep killing dirty ass pigs,” writes Carlos B from Chicago. On Facebook, Eric Davis writes: “CHRIS DORNER KILL AS MANY MORE OF THE LAPD AS U CAN PLEASE.” Nkem Nana Nkua Nsia, also on Facebook writes: “RUN CHRIS RUN.”

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In an open letter on Friday, Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote directly to Dorner: “Apparently you have been wounded by your past experiences of what you have stated in losing your job,” Jackson writes. “I understand your feelings of being hurt. I’m making a plea to you to stop spreading the pain, the hurt and the fear. Please stop don’t take any more lives.”

And ironically, the attention that Dorner previously pursued for his case may be about to happen. On Saturday, in an intriguing reversal of his former statement, Chief Beck said LAPD officials would re-examine Dorner’s allegations. “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,” Beck said in a statement.

“I do this not to appease a murderer. I do it to reassure the public that their police department is transparent and fair in all the things we do,” Beck said.

The saga of the equal opportunity avenging angel has yet to play itself out, but it’s already etched another ugly chapter in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. A department whose “past” is littered with deadly bias incidents against the people it’s sworn “to protect and to serve” is discovering from an unlikely source how history informs the present day. “The past isn’t dead,” William Faulkner once observed. “It isn’t even past.”

That's something Christopher Dorner understands.

Image credits: Dorner, LAPD shield, Dorner and former LAPD Chief William Bratton: LAPD.

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