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?
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"Cities with African-American mayors also tend to have adopted community policing early and are more likely to have police oversight mechanisms in place. Those things go along with the rise of visible African-American power, all of which can make a big policy difference."Skip to next paragraph
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Worries in Los Angeles
In Los Angeles, the Dorner case appears to have laid bare a rising apprehension among some black residents that the police department is backsliding on gains it had made – in transparency, professional conduct, and community relations – since the Rodney King beating.
Chief Charlie Beck moved almost immediately to address concerns, evidently mindful that the case is breeding resentment against the LAPD. Even before the hunt for Dorner reached its unhappy outcome, Beck told the public that the department would review the ex-cop's allegations that he had been fired unfairly in retaliation for reporting abuse by a colleague.
"We are only as good as the public thinks we are," he said at a Feb. 19 press conference. "Confidence in law enforcement is our stock in trade."
"Black folk believe the allegations of racism and discrimination described in Dorner's manifesto; we believe that [the] LAPD fired him for crossing the blue line and reporting police abuse by his training officer; we believe the training officer kicked and hit the suspect as described by Dorner," says Nana Gyamfi, an attorney, professor, and human rights activist in Los Angeles.
"While many do not condone Dorner's killing spree, we understand how he found himself in the position in which he felt he had run out of 'legal' ways to bring racists to justice and restore his name."
Beck will have his work cut out for him to demonstrate that the review of Dorner's allegations is full and fair. Several black community activists have noted that they are leery of his ability to deliver on that because he is a lifetime veteran of the LAPD.
"[Former LAPD Chief William] Bratton was from outside the department, which made it easier for him to institute the kinds of discipline that were needed," says local activist Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic H.O.P.E., which advocates interfaith understanding. "Beck has friends and cronies going back to their days at the police academy. He's not going to shake things up like they need to be."
Speaking broadly of the "culture of policing," and not the LAPD specifically, Mr. Hampton of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America says: "All the changes that are instituted are superficial – changing procedures and rearranging personnel and reconfiguring precincts.
"But what doesn't change is how individual human beings perceive and think about one another. Police chiefs can't or won't admit this out loud, but it is lurking below the surface."
He says the Dorner manifesto could have described situations in dozens of police departments across the country – a view shared by retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey, an African-American. She doesn't agree with what Dorner did, but she says she understands his frustration.
"I am surprised it took this long for someone to do what Dorner did," she says. "The department will grind you down and have you believe there is no life after the LAPD, so once they fired him, he felt like he had no other recourse. If Beck doesn't change the way police are treated at their board of rights hearings, it will happen again."
Where tensions have eased
A whole body of academic research has found that blacks on the whole have much more negative views of police than do whites. But there's also reason to think that that perception can change in the black community, especially with improved economic circumstances.