Let’s not be too quick to dismiss the “ranting” of renegade LAPD officer Chris Dorner, who is fast becoming something of a folk hero in his one-man challenge to the LAPD, one of the nation’s biggest and baddest police departments.
Dorner, a three-year police veteran and former Lieutenant in the US Navy who went rogue after being fired by the LAPD, has accused Los Angeles Police of systematically using excessive force, of corruption, of being racist, and of firing him for raising those issues through official channels.
By all media accounts, Dorner “snapped” after his firing, and has vowed to kill police in retaliation. He allegedly has already done so, with several people, including police officers and family members of police already shot dead or wounded.
Now there’s a record huge “manhunt” involving police departments across California, focussing on the mountains around Big Bear, featuring cops dressed in full military gear and armed with semi-automatic weapons. (Some 40-50 senior LAPD officers specifically threatened by Dorner are also being heavily guarded by LAPD cops.) Dorner has so far skilfully eluded his pursuers, despite a $1-million bounty on his head and thousands of people in the posse hunting for him. He has meanwhile developed a large and growing following of people who are actually rooting for him, with some comparing him to the Batman of “Dark Knight,” striking terror into, and wreaking vengeance on a corrupt police culture.
Few would argue that randomly killing police officers and their family members or friends is justified, but I think that there is good reason to suspect that the things that Dorner claims set him off, such as being fired for reporting police brutality, and then going through a rigged hearing, deserve serious consideration and investigation.
The LAPD has a long history of abuse of minorities (actually the majority in Los Angeles, where whites are now a minority). It has long been a kind of paramilitary force — one which pioneered the military-style Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) approach to “policing.”
If you wanted a good example to prove that nothing has changed over the years, just look at the outrageous incident involving LAPD cops tasked with capturing Dorner, who instead shot up two innocent women who were delivering newspapers in a residential area of Los Angeles. The women, Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71 (now in serious condition in the hospital), were not issued any warning. Police just opened fire from behind them, destroying their truck with heavy semi-automatic fire to the point that it will have to be scrapped and replaced. The two women are lucky to be alive (check out the pattern of bullet holes in the rear window behind the driver’s position in the accompanying photo). What they experienced was the tactics used by US troops on patrol in Iraq or Afghanistan, not the tactics that one expects of police. Their truck wasn’t even the right make or color, but LAPD’s “finest” decided it was better to be safe than sorry, so instead of acting like cops, they followed Pentagon “rules of engagement”: They attempted to waste the target.
Local residents say that after that shooting, which involved seven LAPD officers and over 70 bullets expended — with nobody returning fire — the street and surrounding houses were pockmarked with bullet holes. The Los Angeles Times reports that in the area, there are “bullet holes in cars, trees, garage doors and roofs.”
What we had here was an example of a controversial tactic that the military employed in the Iraq War, and still employs in Afghanistan, called “spray and pray” — a tactic that led directly to the massive civilian casualties during that US war.
We shouldn’t be surprised that two brown-skinned women were almost mowed down by the LAPD–only that they somehow survived all that deadly firing directed at them with clear intent to kill.
The approach taken by those cop-hunting-cops of shooting first and asking questions later suggests that the LAPD in this “manhunt” for one of their own has no intention of capturing Dorner alive and letting him talk about what he knows about the evils rampant in the 10,000-member department. They want him dead. Locals understand this, and a cottage industry has sprung up of people wearing signs saying “Don’t shoot! I’m not Dorner!”
When I lived in Los Angeles back in the 1970s, it was common for LAPD cops to bust into working class homes, gestapo-like, at 5 in the morning, guns out, to arrest people for minor things like outstanding court warrants for unpaid parking tickets, bald tires, or jaywalking.
Police helicopters also used to tail me — then an editor of an alternative news weekly, the L.A. Vanguard — and my wife, a music graduate student, as we drove home at night. Sometimes, they would follow us from our car to front door with a brilliant spotlight, when we’d come home at night to our house in Echo Park. It was an act of deliberate intimidation. (They also infiltrated our newspaper with an undercover cop posing as a wannabe journalist. Her job, we later learned, was to learn who our sources were inside the LAPD — sources who had disclosed such things as that the LAPD had, and probably still has, a “shoot-to-kill” policy for police who fire their weapons.) The LAPD brass were really angry at us for being first to expose their rampant shooting and killing of unarmed residents–a story that later got picked up by the LA Times and some of the local electronic news media.
Friends in Los Angeles tell me nothing has changed about the LAPD, though of course the police weaponry has gotten heavier and their surveillance capabilities have gotten more sophisticated and invasive.
It is clear from the LAPD’s paramilitary response to the Occupy movement in Los Angeles, which included planting undercover cops among the occupiers, some of whom reportedly were agents provocateur who tried to encourage protesters to commit acts of violence, and which ended with police violence and gratuitous arrests, as in New York, that nothing has changed.
In other words, Dorner may be irrational, but he ain’t crazy. And his “army-of-one” campaign against the LAPD has already scored one success, as the department’s chief announced that he is going to re-examine the hearing that led to Dorner’s dismissal from the department to see if it had been fairly and properly handled.
A black military veteran, Dorner joined the police because he reportedly believed in service. Unable to go along with the militarist policing he saw on the job, and the racism all around him, he protested through channels and was apparently rewarded by being fired. Now, in his own violent way, he is trying to warn us all that something is rotten in the LAPD, and by extension, in the whole police system in the US. Police departments almost everywhere in the US, have morphed, particularly since 9/11/2001, from a role of providing public safety and law enforcement into agencies of brutal fascist control, often using the LAPD’s paramilitary model to work from.
As Dorner says in his lengthy manifesto (actually quite explicit and literate, but described as “ranting” in corporate media accounts), in which he explains his actions and indicts the LAPD, “The enemy combatants in LA are not the citizens and suspects, it’s the police officers.”
That could be said of many US police departments, I’m afraid.
Example: Last fall, I had the experience of trying to hitchhike in my little suburban town. A young cop drove up and informed me (incorrectly, it turns out) that it was illegal to hitchhike in Pennsylvania. When I expressed surprise at this and told him I was a journalist working on an article on hitchhiking, he then threatened me directly, saying that if I continued to try and thumb a ride, he would “take you in and lock you up.”
When I called a lawyer friend and said I was inclined to take the officer up on that threat, since I was within my rights under the law hitchhiking as long as I was standing off the road, he warned me against it, saying, “You don’t know what could happen to you if you got arrested.”
And of course he’s right. An arrest, even a wrongful arrest, in the US these days can lead to an added charge — much more serious — of resisting arrest, with a court basing its judgement on the word of the officer in the absence of any other witnesses. It can also lead to physical injury or worse, if the officer wants to lie and claim that the arrested person threatened him or her.
If I had been in Los Angeles, I would most likely have been locked up for an incident like that. Forget about any warning. You aren’t supposed to talk back to cops in L.A. And if you are black or Latino, the results of such an arrest could be much worse.
I remember once witnessing LAPD cops stopping a few Latino youths who had been joyriding in what might have been a stolen car. There was a helicopter overhead, and perhaps a dozen patrol cars that had converged on the scene, outside a shopping mall in Silverlake. I ran over to see what was happening and watched as the cops grabbed the kids, none of whom was armed, out of the vehicle and slammed them against the car brutally. It was looking pretty ugly, but by then neighbors from the surrounding homes, most of them Latino, who had poured out onto their lawns because of the commotion, began yelling at the cops. One man shouted, “We see what you’re doing. These boys are all healthy. If anything happens to any of them after you arrest them we will report you!”
The cops grudgingly backed off in their attack on the boys, and took them away in a squad car. I don’t know what happened to them after that, but they were most certainly saved, by quick community response, from an on-the-spot Rodney King-style beating that could have seriously injured them, or worse.
As things stand right now, with the LAPD clearly gunning for Dorner, and wanting him dead and silenced, not captured, the public has to worry that it has more to fear from the LAPD than it has to fear from Dorner himself. At least Dorner, in his own twisted way, has specific targets in mind. The LAPD is in “spray and pray” mode.
Hopefully, Dorner will realize he can do more by figuring out a safe way to “come in from the cold” so he can try to testify about LAPD crimes, than by killing more cops. If he does manage to surrender, he’d better have a lot of support lined up to keep him safe while in custody.