Distracted by Dorner, Updated: Expert Opinion on Use of “Burner” gas; update on number of rounds fired at false ID pickup

Posted on February 13, 2013

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Chris-Dorner-and-Bill-Bratton

The photo that just about says it all.

After a week of round the clock Dorner coverage, one thing remains clear: the generations-old criticisms about LAPD are as true as ever. LAPD  nurses a culture of corruption, racism and violence and it deliberately protects its brood from the prying eyes of the public or accountability.

From beginning to end of this fiasco, LAPD has comported itself with the same lack of scruples and antagonism towards human life that it has been known for for decades: shooting first, asking questions later and going on a Dorner profiling spree that led some African-American men to wear t-shirts marked “I am not Dorner”. The apparent deliberate incineration of Dorner and/or whoever else might have been in the cabin, is the testament that this culture of violence is the norm across law enforcement agencies.

All of this should be obvious. But what’s less clear, is the image of Dorner that has emerged. In fact, the fixation on Dorner has overshadowed the focus on LAPD, because to a great extent the lever of criticism against LAPD has become Dorner’s account of his experiences and opinions.

This is all very problematic as Dorner, whatever his crimes and mental comportment, is an unreliable interlocutor at best. At worst, he is a mass murderer who killed two people of color simply because of their relationship to someone he held a grudge against.

Much of the spectacle surrounding Dorner emerged from the release of a so-called manifesto that shifted commentary about Dorner from a presumption of innocence to a politicized confession. This is where the problems began, and they began because most commenters, myself included, took the manifesto at face value. There are normative protocols that most left-wingers SHOULD take whenever someone is publicly accused of a heinous act, or crime. The presumption of innocence, of course; is not just a constitutional trope, but also good practice. The rejection of all, not just part, of public documents said to be about or from the individual in question until positive proof emerges, is another.

Had those people commenting on Dorner, and I include myself in that number, relied on these protocols, we would be discussing the LAPD first and foremost. We would still be talking about their unbelievable propensity for lawless violence, as shown in the shooting of two women and the shooting and assault on a third man, while “searching” for Dorner. The short shrift given to these two episodes prevented a true accounting of the danger that many LA communities were plunged into as police searched for Dorner with their own safety foremost.

Residents in the neighborhood where Emma Hernandez and Maggie Carranza were shot, reported hearing as many as “60 gunshots”. Some found bullets in their doors and on their driveways. False accounts that claimed the second victim of the Dorner shootings wasn’t injured, neglected to mention that David Perdue was indeed not injured by gunfire—he was injured when police rammed his truck, giving him a concussion. All of this passed nearly without comment in the public sphere.

We might be talking about Michael Nichols as the ultimate example of the safe harbor police departments in general give to repeat violent, abusive and racist police. Despite being the focus of an internal investigation for over three years after accusations by several women of color of being raped and coerced into sex with him, Nichols was still allowed to police. He is now the focus of another lawsuit, by a victim who claims Nichols beat him severely in an attempt to extort his cash. This news arrived at the luckiest moment for Nichols, who has avoided scrutiny completely during the Dorner manhunt. Almost no attempt was made to link Dorner’s supposed narrative, to their living embodiment in Nichols.

Additionally, during the Dorner manhunt, an off duty police officer is reported to have brandished a gun during a fight with civilians at a sushi bar. Again, a testament to the culture of violence and lawlessness nurtured at LAPD. But hardly a mention in the public sphere in the rush to analyze Dorner’s views.

Regardless, the manifesto became the focus of interest. Within that context, there have been some egregious errors in reasoning and ethics. These begin with ignoring the timing of Dorner’s report on Evans—weeks after the event, and a day after a bad report–but they go much deeper. Almost all of the analysis of Dorner’s manifesto overlooks his promise to kill “misandryst” lesbians in the LAPD, and other misogynist comments throughout–such as his focus on the “disgusting” appearance of another female officer he holds a grudge against. Dorner depicts Asian officers as prisoners of cultural restrictions on speaking out; he calls for the deportation of Fareed Zakaria for never having “a positive thing to say” about America.

Most importantly, the focus on Dorner almost always ignores the promise to kill family members of police officers with whom he has beef. In the problematic context of creating a heroic whistleblower narrative out of the manifesto, this is almost as disturbing as the apparent shrug at the murder of Quan’s daughter and her partner.

All of this is further compounded by the confusion around the versions of the manifesto. One version was around 5,000 words long, another about double that. Mainsteam media exacerbated the confusion by not commenting on the existence of the two separate versions, nor seeking to discover whether the shorter was an edited version of the longer piece—which would bring up its own problems, regarding what was edited, why and by who.

No matter the reason, this pit would-be manifesto analysts against one another: some remarking on the political content regarding assault weapon bans, others positing that the portion that contains the most overtly political [and inane] comments might be manufactured, and thus potential evidence of Dorner’s innocence. The latter is a position that implicitly accepts portions of the previous manifesto as genuine.

Accepting, again, the entire manifesto as truth, one finds an enthusiastic Navy Seal; a lover of military jargon; a fan of George HW Bush, the progenitor of today’s wars in more ways than one; and a supporter of our current conflicts.This combined with his commentary about liberal war supporter Zakaria implies a certain Islamophobia and jingoism. These images all draw a clearer image of the kind of people drawn to police service in particular, than they do an insurrectionary rebel opposing police.

The failure to focus on these aspects of the manifesto when it was discussed publicly in left wing circles, prevented important connections–the ever-more popular destination for ex-military personnel in police agencies, for example. There were no connections of Dorner to Miguel Masso, who served in Iraq, and returned to be involved in at least two episodes of serious violence, one of which left an Oakland teen dead. Indeed, I was surprised to find many “radicals” using Dorner’s military career as a way of normalizing him as a more effective discursive tool.

One thing is for certain and verifiable. Witnesses to the Big Bear standoff and publicly available media archives show an police with a total disregard for law and human life. Law enforcement apparently took the conscious decision to burn down the cabin in which Dorner was hiding. From liberal to civil libertarian, this should indeed cause a furor. Authorities as of this writing have still not determined whether Dorner was in the cabin, and at the time they could not be sure if he was in the cabin alone. Moreover, the act seems to have been part of a planned response, according to audio records of police band exchanges.

Despite this, commenters again and again undermine valid arguments against police mentalities, and those in LAPD in particular as representative of their most virulent iteration, with the need to turn Dorner into an insurrectionist, folk hero, revenge figure, or blowback revenant. Whoever Dorner was, almost nothing that was verifiably done or said by him is a more powerful commentary on the LAPD and law enforcement, than every communication and action of the LAPD itself throughout this period. I fear the reality where this is not obvious.

Update:

–h/t@onekade comes this report on Democracy Now, where former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper claims:

“…then they went to the pyrotechnic version, or the incendiary version of CS gas. And whether it was intentional or not, a very predictable outcome of deploying seven burners in what appears to have been a wooden cabin would predictably leave it in rubble…I’m not going to second-guess it, but I think over the days and weeks ahead it’s imperative that that agency and the rest of the country…By definition, these pyrotechnic versions of tear gas start fires…They are not intended for contained structures, particularly wooden structures.”

–the attorney for Maggie Carranza and Emma Hernandez claims he counted 102 bullet holes in the vehicle. That’s in addition to bullets found around the neighborhood and in people’s homes, apparently.