February 10, 2013
Justice At Any Cost In Los Angeles

Firedoglake reports on two civilian shooting incidents by the LAPD which have occurred since the manhunt for Christopher Dorner began:

Incident 1:

5 a.m. on Thursday, Police received a radio call saying a truck matching Dorner’s gray Nissan Titan was spotted near the home of a high-ranking LAPD officer. A few minutes later, a truck rolled down the officer’s street in Torrance. As the vehicle slowly approached, officers at the house opened fire, unloading a barrage of bullets into the back of the truck.

But …

The truck was a Toyota Tacoma not a Nissan Titan.

The color was aqua blue, not gray.

And inside the truck wasn’t Dorner, a large black man, but two not-large Hispanic women — Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71 — delivering newspapers.

The L.A. Times reported:

Law enforcement sources told The Times that at least seven officers opened fire. On Friday, the street was pockmarked with bullet holes in cars, trees, garage doors and roofs. Residents said they wanted to know what happened.

“How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?” said Richard Goo, 62, who counted five bullet holes in the entryway to his house.

Glen T. Jonas, the attorney representing the women, said the police officers gave “no commands, no instructions and no opportunity to surrender” before opening fire. He described a terrifying encounter in which the pair were in the early part of their delivery route through several South Bay communities. Hernandez was in the back seat handing papers to her daughter, who was driving. Carranza would briefly slow the truck to throw papers on driveways and front walks.

Here’s the second incident, also reported by LAT:

David Perdue was on his way to sneak in some surfing before work Thursday morning when police flagged him down. They asked who he was and where he was headed, then sent him on his way.

Seconds later, Perdue’s attorney said, a Torrance police cruiser slammed into his pickup and officers opened fire; none of the bullets struck Perdue.

His pickup, police later explained, matched the description of the one belonging to Christopher Jordan Dorner — the ex-cop who has evaded authorities after allegedly killing three and wounding two more. But the pickups were different makes and colors. And Perdue looks nothing like Dorner: He’s several inches shorter and about a hundred pounds lighter. And Perdue is white; Dorner is black.

“I don’t want to use the word buffoonery but it really is unbridled police lawlessness,” said Robert Sheahen, Perdue’s attorney. “These people need training and they need restraint.”

There are two problems with incidents like these.  First, they create civil liability for the municipality of Los Angeles.  All the victims of police recklessness described above have lawyered up, and rightfully so.  Both of these cases will probably be settled, possibly for hundreds of thousands of dollars, costing the taxpayers of Los Angeles an equal sum.

Second, incidents like these validate & create more sympathy for Chris Dorner, who has become something of a folk hero to many of the citizens of Los Angeles.  This reader comment cited by FDL is illustrative:

… Our community have been a victim of their mistakes and brutality for decades. The Rodney King incident was one of thousands only that time it was caught on tape. People still didn’t believe it. Oh Well. Dorner had the audacity to cross the thin blue line in other words he snitched. You see what LAPD do to snitches …

When police departments regularly brutalize and dehumanize their communities, they should not be surprised when the community, in turn, dehumanizes them.  While the LAPD does not have an official Stop n’ Frisk policy like the NYPD, stories of humiliations and brutality by the LAPD in poor communities are still common-place.  These stories fuel resentment and anger on the part of the communities affected.  At least one LAPD officer was shot and killed by Chris Dorner, and another was injured.  But news of the death & injury of LAPD cops is not being mourned by significant portions of the poor & marginalized communities served by the LAPD, or indeed, by members of similar communities across America.  

To the contrary: the death of this officer is being celebrated—or at the very least, touted as an understandable backlash.  The "I Support Christopher Dorner" Facebook page has over  6,500 7,500 likes.  Oppressed individuals in over-policed communities are expressing a vicarious rage and frustration through Chris Dorner that was most bluntly captured by Zach de la Rocha in the lyrics to a track off of 1999’s Battle of Los Angeles:

With this device I spit non-fiction
Who the got the power, this be my question? 
…The pig who’s free to murder one Shucklack;
Or survivors who make a move and murder one back?

This type of vindictiveness can only flourish in an official culture that rarely holds malfeasant police officers responsible for their actions.  In cities across America, poor communities & communities of color know all too well that police impunity is the norm, rather than the exception.  As David Cole wrote in 2003, two years after riots shook the streets of Cincinnati in protest of the fifteenth Black male to be shot by Cincinnati police since 1995:

The problem extends far beyond Cincinnati … [w]ere it not for its dated rhetoric, the following excerpt from the 1968 Kerner Commission Report, discussing the causes of the urban riots of the 1960s, could well be a description of Cincinnati, New York City, or many other U.S. cities today: “Negroes firmly believe that police brutality and harassment occur repeatedly in Negro neighborhoods. This belief is unquestionably one of the major reasons for intense Negro resentment against the police.  Physical abuse is only one source of aggravation in the ghetto. In nearly every city surveyed, the Commission heard complaints of dispersal of social street gatherings and the stopping of Negroes on foot or in cars without objective basis.

This impunity extends far beyond excessive uses of force.  Police in many large cities regularly victimize the communities they serve by planting evidence on innocent people, bombarding them with racism-laced verbal abuse, and humiliating them with unconstitutional stops.  A Brooklyn judge recently remarked that he was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct [in the NYPD’s drug enforcement units], but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”  This conduct is not limited to New York or Los Angeles.  It happens in cities all across America, being "routinely employed" for various reasons.

When one reads Chris Dorner’s manifesto, many people are struck by how familiar his accusations of excessive force, lying, and racism on the part of his former colleagues are.  Stories about officers of good conscience trying to do the right thing and being retaliated against by their peers are far too common.  Even Internal Affairs units, who often require their agents to serve as police officers before being admitted, are riddled with the same biases against seeing police misconduct that affect the police force writ large.  In one of the links above, an Orange County, California officer was exonerated of misconduct involving the search of a civilian vehicle because his Supervisor "didn’t feel comfortable holding one officer accountable for it when others were doing it as well[.]"  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist figure out the problem with this logic.  And yet, it gets applied to cases of police misconduct on a regular basis.

We are also told that the LAPD has re-opened the investigation into Dorner’s disciplinary file in order to demonstrate “transparency.”  But the results of this investigation are entirely predictable, particularly given that the LAPD has covered up evidence of its own wrong-doing in the past.  The Special Joint Task Force that will lead the investigation is composed entirely of law enforcement officials from various jurisdictions.  While bringing in officers from other jurisdictions does help increase the objectivity of internal investigations, true transparency in Dorner’s case requires something more, because it is not simply one officer’s misconduct that is at issue here.  The task force should include members of the community who don’t wear a badge—whether they be civilian officials, journalists, or private-sector investigators with no conflicts of interest.  Just as nobody trusted officials from within the Penn State community to conduct an objective investigation of the University’s wrong-doing in the Sandusky case, the LAPD cannot seriously suggest that it will objectively investigate itself with respect to what happened in Dorner’s BOR hearing.  Even if the investigation is conducted in a good-faith fashion, nobody will view the task force’s findings with credibility unless the LAPD separates itself entirely from responsibility for the investigation.

At the end of the day, Christopher Dorner is a fugitive from justice, and needs to be caught.  Civil society cannot tolerate shooting sprees simply because the shooter has a point to make.  But the fact that substantial numbers of people are not only sympathetic towards Dorner, but glad that someone is finally “fighting back” against the LAPD is indicative of just how widespread negative impressions of America’s police are in over-policed communities.  So long as these communities continue to view the police as an occupying force rather than protecting them from harm, people like Chris Dorner will be viewed by these communities as heroes, rather than villains.

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    Great piece. Best part is the quote from my dad, Robert Sheahen.
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  26. makemenfree said: I was calmly serving tennis balls when I looked up to see two cop cars, lights flashing, pulled up behind my SUV. Thank God I wasn’t in the vehicle.