One of the last ideas attributed to Christopher Dorner, the now infamous former Los Angeles police officer suspected of killing four people before a shootout and fire left him dead, amounts to a stock line from a Hollywood action flick.
“What would you do to clear your name?” Dorner, 33 , asked in an invective-filled manifesto placed on his Facebook page before he was killed in a showdown with law enforcement officers Tuesday.
Dorner’s answer produced almost unimaginable violence that the ex-cop and former Navy reservist himself described as “evil.” But for many Americans -- particularly black Americans, who have experienced job losses, reputation dings and life turmoil after reporting alleged wrongdoing by others -- Dorner’s concerns were all too real.
And just what did Dorner describe in that manifesto? Dorner formally lost his job on the Los Angles police force in 2009 for filing an excessive force complaint against another officer, later deemed to be false. He includes case numbers associated with reports, other documents and a video in police custody that he claims prove that he told the truth.
With Dorner gone, four people dead and a region’s law enforcement agencies still reeling, many other questions remain unanswered. Experts contacted by The Huffington Post this week said they had no direct knowledge of Dorner, but offered comments based on the manifesto police say he wrote and media reports about his violent spree and work history at the LAPD.
“What this case indicates is that we are not all exactly happy, happy, happy in our allegedly post-racial, colorblind society,” said Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke University sociologist who studies stratification in the United States and Latin America. Bonilla-Silva wrote the 2009 book, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality.
Bonilla-Silva is a black Puerto Rican living near Durham, N.C. Because of his dark skin and Spanish-inflected accent, he said he has experienced discrimination. He says some people treat him poorly because he’s black. Others assume he’s an undocumented immigrant.
“Some people in this country do not suffer variations of racial insults, racial slights and obvious discrimination on a regular basis,” Bonilla-Silva said. “But for those of us who do, we know the patterns of disconnection that Dorner described. We understand some of his pain. We are not all on the verge of going wild. But we know what Christopher Dorner described in his manifesto is quite far from totally ludicrous.”
Dorner claimed in his manifesto that the officer he named in his complaint was a policewoman known around town as “La Chubacabra.” (La Chupacabra is, depending on who is asked, a mythical and murderous creature with an often female face and vampire-like blood-lust, featured in the folklore of several Spanish-speaking countries.) The officer proudly claimed the sobriquet, Dorner wrote, because she enjoyed inflicting pain and drawing blood in her work.
“If I were a reporter in Los Angeles right now, I would be asking for some public records and trying to find out on the street if anyone has heard of this La Chupacabra,” Bonilla-Silva said. “I don’t see much of that happening.”
More than one story about Dorner has quoted current and former LAPD officials describing that institution as reformed, saying that it’s come a long way from the time in the 1990s when an independent commission led by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher found the department to be riddled with corruption, racial animus and officers willing to abuse their authority.
“These are the rantings of a clearly very sick individual,” William J. Bratton, a former LAPD chief, told The New York Times Friday about Dorner’s manifesto. “It would be a shame if he was able to rally to his cause people who remember the bad old days of the LAPD.”
This week, the LAPD said it would reinvestigate Dorner’s complaints. The department did not respond to The Huffington Post’s requests for comment about the investigation or about Dorner’s employment record.
'VERY, VERY HEAVY'
“There needs to be some understanding that yes, many things are better than they were,” said Earl Bracy, a clinical psychologist and author of the books, Too Young to Die: Inner-City Adolescent Homicides and this year’s The Making of a Psychologist.
“But subtle, insidious forms of discrimination persist in ways that can also damage the psyche and impede progress,” Bracy said.
Like Dorner, Bracy is an African-American who spent time in the military and ranks among the nation’s well-educated and middle- to upper-middle class blacks who have lived and worked in largely white environments. When Bracy was a young man working in hospitals, he frequently saw white doctors -– some of the country’s most educated and respected people -– speak to black patients in condescending and rude ways.
“I can remember thinking, if this is the way that these men, educated white men, think, what must more disadvantaged white people be thinking?” he said.
Racism –- whether perceived or real -– can take a heavy emotional toll, Bracy said.
That is particularly true for black men who, by virtue of social notions of masculinity and stereotypes about who is dangerous, often feel that they need to contain anger and pain in public. Many know that no matter how upstanding, law-abiding and calm they appear, they will always be suspect in some eyes, Bracy said.
Many black Americans have also been raised with the message that they need to be twice as good and work twice as hard just to get half of the rewards. Bracy noted that later, some are confronted in the workplace or at school with suspicions they are present only because of affirmative action.
Dorner used some of his final written words to make it clear that he was not a thug, or an “aspiring rapper,” but rather an almost-always smiling public servant who grew up in mostly white neighborhoods and likely would have voted for Republican Jon Huntsman in last year's presidential primary.
The Los Angeles Times noted that Dorner misspelled Huntsman’s first name with the more common, “John.”
Police officers of all races face challenging work demands that put them under enormous stress and make it difficult for them to socialize with people outside of law enforcement, Bracy said. The work of a black police officer inside a justice system that has been proven to produce racially disproportionate outcomes can be even more taxing, he said.
“A black officer may have truly ambivalent feelings about their job, but at the same time really value the identity, the respect and the perceived honor that comes with the job, the uniform and the badge,” Bracy said.
Dorner also may have been suffering post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his military service or time patrolling Los Angeles’ harbor and streets, Bracy said.
After the police department fired Dorner, he wrote that he lost his high-level military security clearance and fractured several personal and professional relationships. He spiraled downward into a depression so severe that he called on scientists to study his brain after his impending death.
In his Milwaukee practice, many of Bracy’s clients are young black men who have been ordered by courts into treatment. They often need help managing and expressing the emotional sting of real and perceived injustice, he said.
“Many black men will deny it,” said Bracy. “They know that something very wrong is happening, but they struggle to be just like everybody else, to fit in, to not be perceived as paranoid, angry, or a complainer. But that feeling that whatever you do is still not good enough, that internal sensation can be very, very heavy.”
'TO LOSE WHAT HE SAW AS EVERYTHING'
Dorner may be an extreme case, but he is not alone.
Workers filed 33,512 complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that they had experienced racial discrimination on the job in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. Another 37,836 claimed to have experienced retaliation -– including being fired –- for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing. It is unclear what role retribution and discrimination may have played in the 780 violent workplace deaths -- most of them murders -- recorded in 2011 in the United States (2012 data is not yet available).
Some objective indicators of continued workplace discrimination exist. Vast pay and promotion disparities persist in almost every industry, including law enforcement. In 2011, the latest year for which detailed federal information about race, gender, occupational distribution and pay is available, nearly 11 percent of the 406,041 men working as police officers around the country were black. Their median salary was $56,578, compared with $62,907 for white men. There is also evidence that pay and promotional disparities are larger in the private sector.
In the days after Dorner’s killing spree and the hunt for him became national news, a New York Times reporter in Los Angeles found ordinary African-Americans and prominent civic figures who openly expressed solidarity with Dorner’s suspicions about the city police department. Many were, at the same time, bewildered by the former police officer’s actions.
The Los Angeles Sentinel, an African-American owned and operated weekly newspaper, published a story about another former Los Angeles police officer –- also a black man –- under the headline, “Christopher Dorner Manifesto: ‘Not only do I believe it, but I lived it.’” And, on Facebook, pages cropped up expressing support for Dorner, sympathy for the ordeal described in his manifesto and, in some cases, support for his violent plan.
One Facebook page was called, “Christopher Dorner for President.” In Los Angeles, street vendors sold T-shirts that read, "I'm Not Dorner." What’s more, court records indicated that Dorner may have received help from an unidentified person.
The troubling dynamics inside the LAPD are well known and not just the stuff of sepia-colored memories, said Keith Beauchamp, a journalist, documentary filmmaker and producer behind a series of Investigation Discovery Channel specials titled, “The Injustice Files.”
“At the very minimum I would have to say that any police department should understand why people will not trust or believe the conclusions reached when the department investigates itself,” Beauchamp said. “Knowing the LAPD the way that I do, it may be a department that is not capable of really investigating itself."
He suggested the department ask for outside investigators from the FBI.
An African-American who lives in New York, Beauchamp has traveled the country investigating stories of police misconduct, including racial profiling and unsolved murders of young black men. He and his team have found no shortage of stories worth probing, he said.
“It’s not hard to understand why a lot of African-Americans do not condone or agree with Dorner’s actions, but, to some degree, they understand,” Beauchamp said.
It's precisely because of who Dorner was -- according to news reports and his own final statement -- that every American should sit up and pay attention, Bonilla-Silva said.
"This guy [was] not a revolutionary," he said. "He was not a Black Panther. If you read the manifesto as I did you will see that this is a person who was middle-of-the-road and right-leaning politically. He appears, in the words of President Obama, to have believed in 'working hard and playing by the rules,' only to lose what he saw as everything."