I don’t envy the life of a police officer. Those brave few who put on a uniform everyday to protect and serve innocent citizens are surrounded by an unsympathetic public, violent criminals, desperate victims, bloodthirsty lawyers, and the daily possibility of being killed on duty. It is an unfathomable burden and responsibility, and all too often officers who display great fortitude and diligence have their reputations tarnished by corrupt and sadistic colleagues.
Christoper Dorner is still at large. His calculated killing spree is a campaign of vengeance against those officers he believes mistreated him. Many facts came to light in the last few days, and the familiar public specter of one of America’s most notorious police departments has returned. The LAPD has been quick to paint Dorner as a deranged killer, claiming he’s delusional and has a history of emotional instability. They’ve offered up the unimaginable reward of $1,000,000 to aid in his capture, and have been so aggressive in their desire to kill him that they’ve shot at innocent civilians mistaken for the ex-cop.
Despite the cycled narrative, there seems to be some discord in the public perception of Dorner’s case. America has had to endure a lot of senseless gun violence lately. Last July, James Holmes indiscriminately fired at moviegoers in Aurora before strolling outside to wait for the police. Months ago, Adam Lanza mercilessly shot at school children in Newton before taking his own life. But Christoper Dorner’s calculated plan of vengeance targets specific police officers, forcing the public to ignore their knee jerk temptation to dismiss him as a lunatic, and ask one simple question: why?
Those who have read Dorner’s manifesto might be surprised by the overall lucidity of his words. In it, Dorner claims to have been fired for crossing the "blue line" – an unofficial code of silence among all officers to protect their colleagues, even in the presence of illegal activity. He accuses the LAPD of sustaining a culture of corruption, perjury, and racism. He illustrates a legal system whose laws have been purposely designed to target and imprison poor minorities over menial drug offenses. He describes officers who relish the opportunity to shoot suspects, and laughingly text each other pictures of the corpses. Even though the LAPD has been quick to claim the "Rodney King" days are long behind them, it is still far too easy to come across shocking stories of police brutality, sexual assaults, and murder.
This is where Dorner stands apart from the other incidents of violence which have plagued this country. He has committed heinous acts of murder, but significant portions of the public perceive him to be an intelligent individual who was wronged by the police and driven to his breaking point. No one would excuse his abhorrent crimes, but some citizens have been spurned to raise the familiar battle-issues of police ethics and conduct. By targeting a ‘corrupt’ police force, Dorner is trying to paint himself a hero. The unfortunate dysfunctions and failures of our society allow for many people to buy into that narrative. His base of support speaks to our larger societal problems.
In 1971, Frank Serpico testified against his fellow officers and exposed widespread corruption throughout the NYPD. More recently, Officer Adrian Schoolcraft sued the NYPD after they dragged him to a mental asylum for secretly recording his superiors as they instructed officers to cook the books and arrest innocent people to fudge their crime stats. Serpico and Schoolcraft have joined forces to bring police corruption to light.
Serpico: “This is the way they do it…they make you a psycho and everything you do gets discounted. But I told Adrian just to tell the truth as he knows it and to be himself. When you tell the truth, they can't do a damn thing to you.”
Their actions are valiant, virtuous, and self-sacrificial. They never stooped to the level of the officers they testified against, but they also garnered far less press coverage. Dorner is a calculating murderer who decided that his cause justified any actions. His killing of a policeman’s daughter is especially unforgivable, given that she is one of the unarmed innocent people he swore to defend. The unfortunately irrefutable fact about Dorner’s method, however, is that it will certainly garner far more media coverage and bring the LAPD under far more scrutiny than Serpico and Schoolcraft could ever have done.
If only in the sense that we will have to have an honest conversation about police forces in this country, Dorner has had his victory.