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LAPD review of Christopher Dorner firing: why black community wants more

Even 20 years after the Rodney King riots, mistrust simmers between the LAPD and the black community. Some leaders say federal authorities need to investigate Christopher Dorner's claims.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / February 11, 2013

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck looks on during a news conference at the LAPD headquarters in Los Angeles Sunday. A record $1 million reward was posted Sunday for information leading to the capture of fugitive former Los Angeles cop Christopher Dorner, suspected of targeting police officers and their families in three killings committed in retaliation for his 2008 firing.

Patrick Fallon/Reuters

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Los Angeles

Los Angeles's African-American community is casting a skeptical eye on police chief Charlie Beck's decision Saturday to reopen the investigation into the 2008 firing of alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner. Twenty years after the Rodney King riots deep distrust remains, with some community leaders saying the Los Angeles Police Department cannot be trusted to investigate itself – and that perhaps even the US Justice Department should be called in. 

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Mr. Dorner's firing from the LAPD is at the center of the online manifesto that outlines his motivations for revenge. Police say Dorner has already killed three people and has threatened several police officers and families by name. The massive manhunt for him began Thursday.

In his manifesto, Dorner calls his firing "unjust," and suggests that he was fired partly because he reported that a fellow cop kicked a suspect. The allegations of police abuse and prejudice within the LAPD strike a chord within the broader black community. Moreover, they come at a time when some black leaders worry that the LAPD is backsliding after making significant gains toward more inclusivenessxxxxx under the previous chief.

“We don’t agree with Dorner’s tactics, but many of us sympathize with his allegations,” says Najee Ali, a black activist and executive director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. in Los Angeles. “But we don’t think the LAPD can investigate itself and come up with a conclusion that will appease the black community. We think the US Justice Department needs to do it.”

Others have echoed the call for an outside investigation.

“Having the LAPD conduct an internal investigation is like asking Bonnie to investigate Clyde,” says Jasmyne Cannick, an African-American community activist, political commentator, and nationally syndicated columnist. “Not only does this specific incident need to be investigated, but the very process that the LAPD uses needs to be carefully looked at.”

She suggests tapping a panel of retired judges, respected journalists, or local clergy for which the black community has high regard.

Chief Beck appears to recognize the distrust that Dorner's allegations have rekindled with in the black community.    

“It is important to me that we have a department that is seen as valuing fairness,” Beck said at a press conference Saturday.

He also solicited popular local black broadcast reporter Pat Harvey for an interview, in which he said he did not want to appease Dorner but rather to provide transparency to communities of color. Beck said during the interview that he didn’t want the LAPD to slide backward on the gains it has has made since the department became the international poster child for police abuse and corruption in the 1990s in cases ranging from the beating of Rodney King to the trial of O.J. Simpson.

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