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Legacy of Christopher Dorner case: rekindled distrust, resentment of police

When ex-cop Christopher Dorner pursued his fatal vendetta against Los Angeles Police Department, his cause resonated with some in the black community. Why has the old rift between police and minorities been so hard to heal?

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer, Staff Writer / February 26, 2013

Members of the LAPD stood guard as a crowd gathered after a police pursuit involving bank robbery suspects in South Los Angeles last September.

Mel Melcon/Los Angeles TIMES/AP/File

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Los Angeles and Atlanta

One strange, sad, but telling aspect of the recent manhunt for Christopher Dorner, the fired Los Angeles cop who pursued a fatal vendetta against the city police department, is that many African-Americans in Los Angeles and elsewhere cheered him on via Twitter and Facebook and in public online forums.

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"Some people have been putting extraordinarily vile things on websites and e-mailing vile things to the police department in support of this guy," says Comdr. Andrew Smith of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

Apparently swayed by Mr. Dorner's grievances against the department, which he posted online in a "manifesto" accusing the LAPD of racial bias, corruption, and injustice, many of the e-mail senders held up Dorner, who was black, as a kind of hero for striking back at the police – never mind that he killed four people and injured several others before his campaign of targeted assassinations ended in a fiery showdown with authorities.

The e-mail comments pouring into the LAPD, says Smith, were rife with vitriol and "reprehensible things about the police."

What is going on here? After all, much has changed at the LAPD since the 1991 videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King triggered the deepest examination of police racism and brutality in US history – in Los Angeles and other cities across the country.

The list of reforms would grow for years: cultural sensitivity training, community policing, overhauls of officer recruitment and training, new videotaping protections, and citizen oversight boards.

"There have been major strides in improving police departments across the country in the past 30 years," says sociologist Ronald Weitzer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "You'll still find pockets [of corruption] – New Orleans is still quite problematic – but there's clearly progress."

One big challenge is that old perceptions – held by both the public and the police – are slow to die, say Mr. Weitzer and others. And those perceptions, shaped by decades of seething relations between African-American communities and local police departments, are refreshed each time police excesses or missteps leap onto the front pages.

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