Photo by Nate Miller.
The Christopher Dorner manhunt that has consumed so much of the recent media cycle took a turn last night, as law enforcement officials stormed the cabin Dorner was believed to be hiding in. After a siege reminiscent of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993, a single gunshot was heard by police, and the building went up in flames. Officials are currently working furiously to positively identify the body as Dorner’s.
If Dorner, the former LAPD officer who went on a revenge killing spree directed at his former employers, was in the cabin when it burned, then we can put a definitive rest to what was quickly becoming a bizarre cult of personality built around a murderer. There’s already a fake Twitter account and #GoChrisGo was trending up until the point when whoever was in there got torched.
The heroes I choose don’t tend to be killers. They’re usually strong, silent types, like the guy in the commercial who saved a bundle on his car insurance thanks to Geico. That’s a hero—not some wackjob with a bunch of firearms playing “commando.”
But despite the morally questionable position of rooting for a killer, people have taken Dorner’s side. The media has turned him into a celebrity of sorts. Dorner’s manifesto does have some legitimately charming moments. By page 10, he’s arguing for gun control. On page 11, he slams critics of President Obama and states, “off the record, I love your new bangs, Mrs. Obama.” If you can presume to have a private off the record moment in what amounts to a public suicide note and give fashion props, you have my attention. Who doesn’t want to give high-fives to a guy who actually took the time to lament missing The Hangover: Part III and Shark Week in his suicide note?
Chris Dorner has given America a figure they haven’t had in a long time: a popular murderer. The mass killers of the past 20 years have been either religious zealots or nihilists with no worldview for lonely people to latch onto. Newtown and Aurora and the Gabby Giffords shootings weren’t about much other than a single lunatic wanting to shoot people. After it happens, the media spends an inordinate amount of time struggling to figure out why the event took place. Video games, gun shows, parental abuse, public schools, and cable news all get their turn at the whipping post before the pundits move on to some other horrifying news story like a hurricane or the Grammys. Dorner gave us one very specific reason for his crimes. Heroes are only as good as their villains, and Dorner has one of the best villains America has to offer: the Los Angeles Police Department.
Since the 2007 MacArthur Park May Day rallies, which resulted in a near-riot squelched by what many characterize as excessive force, the LAPD has seen a dramatic improvement in their reputation. Crime has sunk to record lows here in Los Angeles, much like the vast majority of major cities in America. People stopped being afraid to see a police cruiser in their neighborhood. Cops seemed friendly and accessible. Officers were even doing foot patrols in Downtown, which served to give cops an identity rather than coming across as one heartbeat away from turning into Mad Max and blowing your head off with a shotgun.
Dorner’s manifesto, which details the alleged police abuses that pushed him to a life of crime, is a striking reminder of the legacy left behind by former police chiefs William Parker and Daryl Gates. Parker was famously lionized by the LAPD, who named their headquarters after him, despite his blatant racism and penchant for brutal tactics. Parker Center was a symbol of repression in Los Angeles in the 20th century and was in the center of the maelstrom during the Rodney King trial. Daryl Gates rivaled Parker for sheer balls, by employing methods first developed in Vietnam to pacify gang neighborhoods.
It’s fascinating to see both LA residents and non-LA residents remember that they hate the LAPD. For a few years, people forgot that police officers in LA wear dark clothes and sunglasses, carry guns, and like to use them. Angelinos are like abused wives that just want to give the bastard a second chance, but still get slapped around again anyway.
It’s that history of abuse and neglect that has led some to treating Chris Dorner like some kind of deity. Twitter is full of maniacs who think there’s nobility in cheering on a guy who is an alleged murderer because he was “noble.” When considering the shameful deeds of the LAPD, it’s easier to root for a single man on the run who might have had a legitimate grievance. That’s especially true after the police shot everyone in the general vicinity of the LA metro area who wasn’t Chris Dorner. It simply feeds into the ingrained idea of the LAPD as a kind of Gestapo.
We know the LAPD has a history of being borderline fascist. The tape of Rodney King being mercilessly beaten is still readily available to watch on Youtube. This is not ancient history. Dorner was the underdog. He was one man against the nameless, faceless corruption of the LAPD. He liked bad movies and television. He had opinions that were almost logical. He saw that Michelle Obama’s bangs are “off the hook.” He was more than willing to claim the side of righteousness for his cause. Of course, all murderers do. Anders Behring Breivik thought he was protecting the Norwegian way of life when he killed 77 people. Barack Obama is absolutely sure he’s defending America when he authorizes an assassination or a drone strike. Justifying a decision, even one as troubling as killing someone, can be done. Hopefully, one day, we as a society can learn to pick the person who doesn’t pull the trigger as our hero.