“Why is everybody supporting Chris Dorner?” is becoming a popular question, and almost nobody is answering it correctly. Karen North, a professor at USC, suggested in a CNN interview that “people have a history of rooting for antiheroes, Butch Cassidy, Bonnie and Clyde. . .”. She goes on to dismiss the support as irrelevant, suggesting that people say things on the Internet because they aren’t “accountable online”, and that others just like to be provocative. I call bullshit.
If law enforcement officials, newscasters and government officials want to know how Chris Dorner could garner so much support, go to YouTube and search for Police Brutality, and find “About 127,000 [answers]”. This isn’t just people being provocative, this is a genuine outpouring of rage and anger at the out-of-control police state and it’s oppressive brute squad, the police. Support for Chris Dorner has nothing to do with some vague, intangible sense of contrarian provocation, it’s a natural reaction to the increasingly out of control intrusion, abuse, harassment and violence of the modern police state that America has devolved to. For a small taste, watch this video:
Sit through that five-and-a-half-minute video, and you will see a man who has surrendered and is face down, limbs spread, kicked in the head, restrained and helpless suspects punched and kicked in the face, a paraplegic in a wheelchair dumped to the floor and searched because he refused to stand up, a city councilman who was peacefully leaving a council meeting from which he was ejected pushed to the ground and beaten by cops who followed him out to do just that, a police officer knocking a man off a bike arbitrarily, and a man, knocked unconscious after losing control and being thrown from his car during a police chase, beaten with clubs by the first five police officers to reach his helpless body–and all of that is just the first half of the video. Police officers and officials on the news expressing shock and incredulity that anyone would support Chris Dorner need look no further than their own actions to find the source of the vehement anger and rage at police, and see a man who vows to take cops like that off the streets as a hero and not a madman. Not convinced? Try this one:
There are a couple of overlaps between the two, but the second video is 10 times longer and contains less than 2 minutes of common footage. Finding or videos of police brutality in America is no harder than finding images or videos of police. It’s their modus operandi. Modern American police officers are clannish, brutal, violent, intimidating and proud of it all. They cleave to a code of conduct that values clan loyalty over adherence to and respect for the law. A police officer in the second video can’t bring himself to charge a clearly drunk and dangerous driver (he was stopped for weaving all over the road) because the man is an airport police officer. In other words, the code of loyalty police officers feel for each other–even for officers from different departments or agencies–is so powerful, that not only will they ignore the law, they will put public lives at risk by allowing dangerous behavior amongst themselves before charging one of their own.
Couple that with ever more ridiculous and invasive screenings just to take an airplane flight–provided you aren’t on a top-secret list of people who were randomly proscribed from boarding airplanes by a mysterious and unaccountable law enforcement agency, and you have a recipe for anyone who takes out a police officer specifically for being a bad cop to instantly become a crusading champion for public justice, and not the marauding menace the police and media have unsuccessfully tried to paint him out to be. Chris Dorner’s manifesto was riddled with bad grammar, it wasn’t well-organized, and it was redundant at points, but it resonated with people because he was expressing a rage that used to be confined to minorities and other weak, disenfranchised groups but has now expanded to everyone not affiliated with or a member of a police agency of some kind. Where cops might have once only rousted, harassed, beat and/or tortured blacks, Latinos, gays and homeless people, now they have no problem electrocuting ordinary white guys, little old ladies or even unconscious injured teenagers whose backs were broken by a fall. Nineteen times. The kid with the broken back was tazed nineteen times. The police excuse was that the kid was threatening them and “seemed like he was on drugs”. Note that “seemed like he was on drugs” is a boilerplate excuse bad people use to justify doing bad things. George Zimmerman used it when he shot Trayvon Martin. Like Martin, the toxicology on the injured kid’s blood came back clean, because “seemed like he was on drugs” is a blanket explanation when someone does something stupid and should have known better.
Let’s stop pretending like support for Chris Dorner is some big mystery, or a quirky, idiosyncratic reaction people have because we all like “bad boys”, and call it what it is. What we have now is an opportunity to address the issue, the real issue: People hate cops because cops are pigs and largely deserve to be hated, because even the ones who aren’t complete assholes who belong behind bars don’t do anything to put the bad ones behind bars, because inter and intra-departmental loyalty is more important than honor, decency, or the fucking laws they “swore” to obey and uphold in the first place. As long as this is true, every crusading vigilante who starts killing police officers for being bad cops is going to generate a huge groundswell of support, because hey, we root for the good guys. And since cops won’t actually charge, arrest or cite other cops, someone just up and shooting them is pretty much the only way to get them off the streets they shouldn’t be patrolling in the first place.
It is often forgotten that prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center, the NYPD were not generally seen as heroes, they were seen as brutal thugs. NYPD was most famous, on September 10, 2001, for gunning down unarmed black men, sodomizing prisoners in custody with maintenance equipment, and running over pedestrians while running red lights drunk. The whole NYPD should have worn black bands over their badges when the death of Osama bin Laden was announced; no man ever did more for the reputation of their department than he did. Maybe if he’d set off a bomb in Oakland in February of 2009, Johannes Mehserle would still have a job.
If police officers and law enforcement officers want to understand–or better still, prevent–massive support for vigilante cop killers, they don’t need to do community outreach, they don’t need to work on better PR, they don’t need to do a better job explaining themselves. What they need to do is look inside, rediscover their humanity, decide that they want to be members of their communities and not the neighborhood bullies. They need to treat their fellow citizens with equality and respect, and they need to avoid unnecessary violence and brutality at all costs, resorting to such only in the most extreme circumstances and abandoning the current policy of beating people first and doing their jobs later, after they get all the violence out of their systems. Police departments and agencies are going to have to do a better job of enforcing their own policies and ensuring that their officers follow the laws like everybody else, without exception. They need to eliminate policies that elevate and alienate officers from their fellow citizens, like exemptions on ticketing or charging, by harshly punishing not just offenders but anyone caught giving them a pass.
Cities need to establish independent Civilian Review Boards to have authority and oversight over police activity. These need to have the power to investigate and sanction–even dismiss–officers at all levels within the department, and must consist only of members who have never served in law enforcement. The most frequent argument I see against such boards is that a bunch of civilians can’t understand what it’s like in the field, but that is precisely why they must not contain active or former cops: If an officer can’t explain why it was necessary to punch a handcuffed suspect in the face to a bunch of people who have never experienced the rush and thrill of punching a helpless person in the face, that officer needs to be sanctioned. I reject the corollary to that argument, that police officers worried about possible review may hesitate and risk their own safety or the safety of other officers, for fear of being unfairly punished. Nobody would be punished for clearly acting in the perceived best interests of safety or security in a critical situation, and it is likely that the benefit of the doubt would fall on the side of officers in truly ambiguous situations, but if you watched those videos above, those are not ambiguous situations. Every police officer in either of those videos and the tens of thousands more on YouTube this very moment should be fired at best, many of them belong in prison.
Until this happens–and I have no expectation that it ever will–the public will support any outraged, fed up citizen who decides enough is enough and starts taking the fight back to the people who started it in the first place: Police officers themselves.