(The Root) — Fugitive and suspected murderer Christopher Dorner may have been found dead in a burned-out cabin in Big Bear, Calif., on Tuesday evening, ending a weeklong manhunt. However, for many the story of the former Los Angeles police officer and Navy reservist gone rogue isn’t a clear-cut one of death and destruction but, rather, of race, police brutality and the blue wall of silence.
As a Californian who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., I wasn’t completely up to speed on Dorner’s manhunt until Saturday morning, when I skimmed the headlines, most of which described him as a suspected murderer on the run from the Los Angeles police. Then, on Sunday, I dug a little deeper and realized that Dorner was a Navy reservist-turned-Los Angeles police officer before he was fired. In response to losing his job, Dorner allegedly released a lengthy manifesto detailing how he’d stepped in to stop a suspect from being beaten by a white cop and was railroaded for taking his co-worker to task. Then Dorner allegedly began to violently retaliate against those he felt had wronged him, like his lawyer, her husband and other officers in pursuit.
As a survivor of police brutality, I’m familiar with the checkered past of the Los Angeles Police Department, including the Rodney King and Rampart scandals and the racial division created by O.J. Simpson’s trial. I have a family member who is a retired Los Angeles County sheriff who has told me stories of her own Dorner-like experiences — stepping in to save a suspect from brutality against the will of fellow officers. To me, it is not far-fetched to believe that a black male — or an officer of any color — who went against his squad would be ostracized and relieved of his job.
It’s because of King, Rampart — and other incidents that weren’t reported on a national scale — that it looks fishy when LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announces plans to reinvestigate Dorner’s dismissal to assure locals that his department “is transparent and fair in all the things we do.”
“I am aware of the ghosts of the LAPD’s past, and one of my biggest concerns is that they will be resurrected by Dorner’s allegations of racism,” Beck said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.
But why investigate Dorner’s claims unless there may be merit to his words?
In 1970, current University of California, Santa Cruz, professor and activist Angela Davis went through a similar manhunt, and though she didn’t kill anyone while on the run (or ever), her flashy chase was played out in the media and became very much a discussion of color and politics. Dorner’s case is obviously different — he allegedly did kill a number of people — but his story has also sparked conversations about race, politics and police. His experience might prove that the “ghosts of the LAPD” may never have left the City of Angels.
Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.