THE BLOG
02/15/2013 11:39 am ET Updated Apr 17, 2013

Diversity News & Notes: Inside the Mind of Christopher Dorner

This week, I worked on a story about the emotional toll of workplace discrimination - real or perceived - and just why so many people of color seem to identify with some, but certainly not all, of former Los Angles cop Christopher Dorner's experiences.

The story should go up today and when it does, I'll drop a link in here. Please take a look. But, honestly, there was so much that I couldn't jam into the story, that I decided to share a few outtakes from the notebook here.

I had a fascinating conversation with Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke University sociologist who studies race and stratification in the United States and Latin America.

Bonilla-Silva is a self-described black Puerto Rican living in the Durham, N.C.-area who because of his dark skin and Spanish-inflected accent has experienced both the kind of discrimination usually reserved for black men and people assumed to be illegal immigrants. Imagine that!

In 1994, Ellis Cose wrote a controversial but in some circles well-received book called, "The Rage of a Privileged Class: Why Are Middle-Class Blacks Angry? Why Should America Care?," Bonilla-Silva said.

The year before, Colin Ferguson, a Jamacian-born New York man from a once wealthy family who blamed American racism for his inability to find anything more than menial work, shot and killed six people aboard the Long Island Railroad.

Strangely, Ferguson was declared sane enough to stand trial. Once it began, he defended himself by making references to his actions in the third person and questioning his own victims on the stand, University of Connecticut historian and writer chronicling the modern meaning of race, William Jelani Cobb, told me during a casual conversation. The goal: put a disturbed man in prison rather than a mental health care facility. Ferguson is still on te front end of serving a sentence of 315 years and 8 months to life at the Upstate Correctional Facility in Franklin County, New York.

In 2011, Cose published a new book, "The End of Anger: A New Genration's Take on Race and Rage." The black-white household wealth gap is also the largest that it has been in 30 years, he said. A similar, only slightly smaller wealth gap exists between Latino and white Americans.

But, Many African Americans and Latinos have been socialized to believe that if they simply manage the pain of discrimination tor ignore it the next generation will have better lives, Bonilla-Silva said. Now, there is Dorner.

"For folks of color it sometimes feels like we are living in an Alice and Wonderland, through the looking glass kind of world," said Bonilla-Silva. "You may not work in a space where people will call you names. There is often a softer version of racism but killing me softly, still kills."

This week, while hunting for Dorner, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it would reinvestigate Dorner's complaints.

For black Americans and many Latinos, police brutality and racial profiling, shoddy or suspect criminal investigations, wrongful convictions and other miscarriages of justice are not just concepts the documentary film maker and investigator Keith Beauchamp said.

For most white Americans, just the opposite is true.

"That has produced some very different takes on Dorner in black and white America," he told me. "In black America I don't think we condone his behavior. But I think we, I know I can understand the emotions behind it."

You may know Beauchamp's name from his Investigation Discovery Channel specials, "The Injustice Files." Beauchamp travels the country investigating stories of police misconduct including alleged racial profiling, or cases in which the murders, beatings, disappearances or arrests of mostly young black men have gone unsolved. The latest episode of "The Injustice Files aired this week. And, since Investigation Discovery is a cable network, I suspect that it will be repeated.

If you can't find "The Injustice Files" on TV, Beauchamp's short on the emotional impact of being presumed dangerous, guilty and suspicious is worth checking out here. Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard University psychiatrist and the man behind a number of books on emotional health and race makes it really plain in less than 3min.

But perhaps most meaningful were the comments of another mental health professional I talked with this week. Earl Bracy is a clinical psychologist in Milwaukee. Bracy treats many young black men struggling with the emotional fall out from injustice and just released his own memoirs about his expriences with discrimination in his personal and professional lives

Police officers of all races face particularly challenging work environments that require them to operate in a state of hyper alert arousal - stress - at almost all times. That makes it difficult for them to socialize with others who work in different industries, Bracy said. The work of a black police officer inside an institution with a racial reputation as notorious as the NYPD will face additional stress.

On top of that, there is ample proof that black officers may turning the black people that they do arrest into unwitting and excessively punished victims of the criminal justice system, Bracy said.

Other African American coping with similar things on their own jobs may be better equipped to handle life's difficulties because they experience lower levels of sustained stress, are more comfortable with themselves or have a social network onto which they an unload and in which they feel understood, Bracy said.

Another group express their pain in dangerous and damaging ways on family and friends.

"Neither [Dorner's method or that of the latter group] is good," said Bracy. "Neither is healthy at all. It's just one goes on at home instead of in the street and on the front pages of newspapers."

Again, please check out the full story on race, mental health and discrimination here.

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