There's something about saying someone's a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things.

Christopher Dorner and the Monsters in Our Heads

Originally published by Eugene Daily News on February 14, 2013.

I hate violence. I hate it with a passion. I get sick to my stomach when I think about the shootings in Springfield, Oregon, Aurora, Colorado, and Newton, Conneticut. I cannot fathom what would drive individuals to spill the blood of innocent people, especially children.

Christopher Dorner killed innocent people, too. (I guess to be entirely accurate I should say he was charged with killing innocent people, because technically he was “not…convicted of any crime under the law.”) He killed “the daughter of one of the people he had a beef with.” That woman was Monica Quan, the daughter of Randy Quan,  a retired police captain who had “represented Dorner in the disciplinary proceedings that led to his firing.” He even killed Keith Lawrence, Monica Quan’s fiance, who was neither related to anyone involved nor a police officer. He was, rather, a “public safety officer at the University of Southern California.” The couple was newly engaged: “Days before their deaths, Lawrence…scattered rose petals on the floor of their Irvine home, got down on a knee and asked for her hand.”

When it comes to the actual violence, there’s not a lot of difference between Christopher Dorner and Adam Lanza, the school shooter from Newton. Both took innocent lives; both almost senselessly took sons and daughters away from their families forever.

Christopher Dorner is not the new Batman, neither is he the new Joker. He's a human being who made the wrong decision based on being wronged.
Christopher Dorner was not the new Batman, neither was he the new Joker. He was a human being who made the wrong decision based on being wronged.

But as much as I hate violence, I also hate the words we often use to describe it. What Adam Lanza did in Newton to those kids was deplorable, tragic, and evil. I have no problem saying that. But when I hear people call him a mental case or psychotic or the embodiment of Satan, I cringe. When I hear people shout that Dorner is insane or a lunatic or a monster, I cringe, too.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. I honestly haven’t quite figured it out. But I think that there’s something about saying someone’s a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things. I feel that, even if you do crazy or monstrous things, you’re still a human being. You aren’t just some otherworldly puppet being manipulated by cosmic forces. You aren’t just born broken and thus deserve to be locked up at birth. Human beings can be mean and cruel creatures but we call them “human” still for a reason.

I think I simply want to know what happened. Adam Lanza was just 20 years old. He was a real live person — he played video games, wore short-sleeved, button-down shirts, and liked to read. What makes a person like that massacre 27 other people, including 20 kids? Christopher Dorner was a real live person, too, who dreamed about being a cop since a little boy, loved football, and once found a bank bag with almost $8,000 and returned it to its rightful owner. What makes a person like that justify killing innocent people that never wronged him?

I know I’ll never fully comprehend these tragedies. But I’d like to try. Because trying to understand what happens to people like Lanza and Dorner seems more effective in preventing future acts of violence than just saying, “Another crazy monster!” and moving on to the next action-packed news phenomenon.

I think I also want to comprehend these tragedies because I myself suffer from major depression and struggle with suicidal urges. And while I know those aren’t mental disorders that usually lead to mass shootings or cop-killings, they are mental disorders just the same. Some people would call me “crazy.” I certainly think I am crazy sometimes. So when I hear all this anger at “crazy monsters,” I flinch a bit, because I think, “Well, at one point Lanza and Dorner were just walking around like normal people, just like me, then all of a sudden they ‘go crazy.’ What if I ‘go crazy’?”

People with intellectual developmental disabilities don’t like foolish or rash decisions being associated with them. People with mental disorders don’t like murderous rampages and school shootings associated with them, either.

That’s the best reason I can come up with for why I want to know what happened. To know that these people aren’t suddenly possessed by cosmic forces of evil, so easily labeled as “crazy monsters.” To know that they — like all of us — are human beings that experience the difficulty of life with the minds and bodies we are given and then make choices — more or less consciously — that lead to new life-difficulties. What those choices are, and how in control we are of our minds and bodies, will of course determine whether we are acting intentionally or morally. But, like I said, I’m not one to withhold judgment if you decide to shoot innocent people. I will, nevertheless, refrain from calling you a crazy monster — not just because it makes me cringe, but also because calling you a monster actually abdicates you of your responsibility. If you’re a monster, you’re merely acting according to your nature. And what separates me from someone who kills innocent people is not some magically evil enchantment but my decision that killing innocent people is a horrible idea.

There's something about saying someone's a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things.
There’s something about saying someone’s a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things.

But some people, like Christopher Dorner, aren’t willing to make a similar decision. And though I vehemently disagree, I consider it important — both for the sake of my taking an educated stance against his decision as well as a nod to his own humanity — to try to figure out why. Adam Lanza seems a much more difficult, elusive case, as do most school shooters. But Christopher Dorner was a very articulate, intelligent person who pretty much layed out his case in his now-infamous manifesto. In fact, some have suggested that, “The manifesto answers a lot of the whys behind what Dorner did. For the most part, the manifesto was minimized by those who were covering the Dorner situation. Instead of pushing the manifesto…sensationalist titles were affixed to Dorner’s name in the headlines.”

Much internet space has already been filled over that manifesto. I care little about contributing to that. But I do want to share a few stories that I found while trying to figure out Dorner’s motives and the context in which he lived (and died). I want to share these stories not to justify his actions, but to simply show that he wasn’t by any means unexplainable. He’s not the new Batman, neither is he the new Joker. He’s a human being who made the wrong decision based on being wronged.

For each of these observations, I give both a few links to the full stories as well as an excerpt that summarizes the point of the story.

Observation 1: There is a serious “use of force” problem in the LAPD.

Christopher Dorner claimed that another officer, Teresa Evans, used excessive force against a man with schizophrenia, Christopher Gettler. It was this claim that got Dorner fired. Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t strike me as abnormal. If you haven’t read or heard about the LAPD’s consistent overuse of force, you should. Here are just a few recent examples:

“A friend of 20-year-old college student Ronald Weekley says he was beat up by overzealous LAPD officers in Venice on Saturday. The confrontation was captured on video (after the jump). The friend, Alexis Parker, says Weekley was trying to avoid gangsters on the other side of the street when police asked him to stop — and then tackled him when he didn’t…Parker says Weekley suffered a broken chin bone, a broken nose and a concussion in the confrontation.” (Full story)

“Police tonight said they’re investigating a videotaped beat-down ‘use of force’ by two LAPD cops in its San Fernando Valley Foothill Divison…The woman was ID’d tonight as 34-year-old Michelle Jordan of Sunland…The station described Jordan’s situation as ‘getting your head slammed into the pavement.’ The video, apparently security footage from a nearby business, depicts the officers sharing a fist bump after the woman is slammed to the ground.” (Full story)

“A South Los Angeles woman who was treated to a ‘leg sweep’ by an LAPD cop after allegedly struggling with officers died while in custody, police said in a statement tonight. In-car video of the situation, when the suspect was in custody, ‘revealed some questionable tactics and improper comments,’ according to an LAPD statement. The Los Angeles Times said the woman was stomped in the groin and possibly called ‘fat ass.’” (Full story)

“The civilian commission that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department has taken the rare step of rejecting a recommendation from the department’s chief, ruling that two police officers were wrong when they fatally shot an unarmed autistic man last year. Police Chief Charlie Beck concluded after a lengthy internal investigation that the officers made serious tactical mistakes during the brief, late-night encounter…” (Full story)

“The family of a man who was fatally shot by police after a freeway chase filed a $120 million legal claim against the city of Los Angeles Monday. The claim could be the beginning of a lawsuit…Police fired more than 90 rounds in Arian’s direction, killing him. Officers later discovered that Arian was unarmed throughout the entire confrontation.” (Full story)

Observation 2: Law enforcement agencies should encourage whistleblowing and  transparency, not attempt to hide mistakes from the public.

Christopher Dorner believed that he wasn’t taken seriously by his superiors when he reported Gettler’s abuse at the hands (or feet) of Evans. He also believed that they tried to suppress the fact. Again, that wouldn’t be the first time that happened:

“The Los Angeles Police Department’s news release on an Oct. 12 officer-involved shooting seemed fairly routine…But one crucial piece of information was left out of the release: The suspect’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time and he was lying on his stomach…LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said investigators are trying to understand the circumstances that led to an officer shooting a restrained and unarmed man…The case marks the second time in as many months that the LAPD has withheld important and potentially unfavorable information from the public in cases involving serious uses of force by officers. Last month, the department released an account of an incident in which a woman died after several officers forced her into the back seat of a police car. The news release made no mention of the fact that a female officer was under investigation for berating the woman and stomping on her genitals during the encounter.” (Full story)

Observation 3: Abuse fosters more abuse. It’s a deadly cycle.

Christopher Dorner claimed to have suffered abuse his entire life due to his skin color, and that the LAPD were relentlessly racist against him. This isn’t the first time the LAPD has been accused of rampant racism (Rodney King comes to mind). In fact, another former LAPD officer has come forward and said that, while he would never support killing innocent people like Dorner did, he agrees with Dorner that the LAPD has some serious problems. From what I’ve read, those serious problems — and Dorner making them public, albeit with murder — is why some people view him as a hero.

This isn't the first time the LAPD has been accused of rampant racism (Rodney King comes to mind).
This isn’t the first time the LAPD has been accused of rampant racism (Rodney King comes to mind).

“In the first six months of this year, one Black person every 36 hours was executed. This wanton disregard for Black life resulted in the killing of 13 year-old children, fathers taking care of their kids, women driving the wrong cars, as well as people with mental health and drug problems.” (Full story)

“In 2006, Schefres was interviewed about the punching incident during an investigation into allegations that Dorner slapped the hand of another recruit officer, internal affairs records show. Dorner had accused that second recruit–as well as another recruit — of using a racial slur while they were traveling in a police vehicle during their time in the academy. The department confirmed Dorner’s slur allegation against one of the recruits but not the other, the records said…Two months later, Dorner lodged another complaint against fellow cops, according to an LAPD complaint review report. Dorner said that after work on Oct. 10, 2007, he discovered that his jacket, on top of his duty bag, ‘was wet and dirty,’ according to the report. He believed someone had urinated on it.” (Full story)

“A former LAPD officer who wrote a Christopher Dorner ‘manifesto’ of his own supporting claims of racism at the department told the Weekly today that ‘I understand why he snapped.’…Jones said he didn’t find it unusual at all to hear of a situation like Dorner’s in which a rookie, African American officer’s case against a senior white officer was met with disbelief and rejection by the department and court system…Asked if he experienced racism on-the-job, Jones almost laughed. Asked if he was surprised to see the African American community in L.A. respond so differently to Dorner than the rest of town, he said, ‘Of course they’re going to see it different.’…’I definitely know what it’s like to go through having your name slandered after having done the right thing,’ Jones told us. ‘It’s a terrible feeling.’…He wants readers to know that his greatest sympathy for the victims of the suspect in this case. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t understand him killing people. I don’t understand a police officer that’s dead.’” (Full story)

“Disgraced ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner has been described by police and experts as a delusional and perhaps even psychopathic killer. But in the African American community he’s often viewed in a different light — as a victim of racism who became unhinged only after exhausting legitimate avenues to fight the good fight against his firing. Some are even calling him a hero…Earl Ofari Hutchinson of The Hutchinson Report and the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, says Dorner’s allegations ‘have resonance’ in L.A.’s African American community. ‘I’m not surprised,’ he says, ‘that Dorner would emerge almost as a folk hero, a perverse Robinhood.’” (Full story)

I do not understand the Robinhood sentiment. Yes, the LAPD has some serious issues. But I do not think killing innocent people is the right way to address those. But I also do not understand the delusional, psychopathic killer sentiment.  If you were discriminated against your whole life, tried to stand up for a mentally ill person against someone you believed was abusing her badge, and then got fired for doing the right thing by people who were calling you a n****r every other day — I can make the psychological connections very easily. It doesn’t justify murder. But it’s not a case for the X-Files, either.

What I see is neither an otherworldly embodiment of evil nor a folk hero. What I see is a man who suffered abuse at the hands of an abusive culture — and who chose to further perpetuate it.

2 thoughts on “Christopher Dorner and the Monsters in Our Heads”

  1. well done. thank you for humanizing Dorner and for pointing out that, whatever the context, humans are fundamentally choice-makers.

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