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Burning Down the House
“Burn that fuckin’ house down…Fucking burn this motherfucker!!”
–Voices overheard on police radio at the scene of the cabin where Chris Dorner was trapped and burned to death by the cops
It was clear from the outset when fired LAPD cop Chris Dorner began wreaking his campaign of vengeance and terror against his former employer that the California law enforcement establishment, led by the LAPD itself, had no interest in Dorner surviving to face trial, where he could continue to rat out the racist and corrupt underbelly of the one of the country’s biggest police departments.
Dorner claimed he had been fired for speaking up during his three years on the force, through channels and to superior officers, about incidents he had witnessed of police brutality and of the rampant racism that permeates the department — not just white on black, but black on Asian, Asian on Latino and Latino on white. His response to being sacked — threatening to kill senior officers he blamed for this law enforcement distopia as well as some of their family members — was criminally insane, but his complaints, made in a 6000-word post on Facebook, had and continue to have the ring of truth.
The LAPD response to his threats was to mobilize the whole 10,000-member department in a manhunt, complete with $1-million reward. Cops exchanged their black uniforms for military fatigues and armed up with semi-automatic weapons. Two Latino women delivering papers in Torrance were attacked from the rear of their pick-up by seven LAPD cops who, with no warning, peppered their truck with bullets, targeting the back of the driver’s head, firing at least 70 rounds and destroying the vehicle (amazingly, neither woman was killed, though one was hospitalized in serious condition). That attack, which looked like the kind of thing US soldiers and Marines routinely did to suspect vehicles in Iraq with such deadly impact, made it clear that the LAPD wanted Dorner badly, but only dead, not alive and talking.
They got their way. Trapped in a cabin in the mountain town of Big Bear northwest of Los Angeles last night, Dorner found himself surrounded by SWAT teams. If the police had wanted to capture Dorner at that point, they could have waited him out. They had him sealed off completely. Instead, they reportedly quickly brought in an armored vehicle, had it drive up and break the windows of the cabin. At that point, the official story is that they tossed in teargas grenades, but since these are known, because of their intense heat, to routinely ignite fires, this was simply murder by arson. But there is also word that police radios were confirming execution of a plan to place “burners” into the building. Either way, the sheriffs and cops, once the fire was started, simply watched as the building burned to the ground. (There are some truly sickening recordings of the police and sheriff’s deputies at the scene of the standoff discussing their “burn plan” to torch the cabin, and then discussing setting it, and also telling inquiring firefighters that they don’t want them to put it out, even telling an inquiring firefighter at one point, “Negative, I still don’t have adequate penetration.” To hear this last conversation, go here.)
The US corporate media from the New York Times to Fox TV have been claiming despite the strong evidence of deliberate arson that the fire was not intentional or that it was not meant to torch Dorner, but outside the US it’s a different story, with even the right-wing Bild newspaper in German saying the fire was “intentionally set by the police.”
Earlier, through a bullhorn, the cops told Dorner to “surrender or come out.” It was a curious turn of phrase and offered him a tough choice. Normally, one would think that “coming out” would constitute a surrender, at least if it was done with hands up, but this wording suggested more of a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid scene, with the Federales blowing him away as he exited the building.
In any event, with sheriff’s and police officers saying they heard one shot from the burning building, and reports of the remains of a body found in the basement, along with a charred wallet containing Dorner’s drivers license, it would appear that he chose suicide to surrender, though forensics tests will be required to prove it was Dorner’s body that was down there. The real truth of what happened in Big Bear will never be known, since the media was barred — even from the airspace over the building.
Now the challenge will be to see if this episode will lead to a serious outside examination of the sick paramilitary apparatus that is the Los Angeles Police Department, a law enforcement organization that has for decades been a poster child for police abuse, excessive violence, the slaying of unarmed people, internal racism, improper political pressure on both city council and state legislature, rampant spying on law-abiding citizens, and a policy of omerta regarding internal criticism of wrongdoing.
Given the department’s long history of fighting tooth-and-nail against oversight and reform, it seems unlikely Dorner’s explosion will have such an effect, but given the instant celebrity he achieved through his actions, even despite his cruel and inexcusable violence, perhaps it will. The public reaction in Los Angeles, as least among many of the populations–black, Latino and poor whites — who are victimized most often by the police — has shown that many people are angry and want things changed.
While Dorner was at large, and police were gunning for him in their heavy-handed, trigger-happy way, some dark-skinned Angelenos took to wearing shirts saying “Please Don’t Shoot. I’m not Dorner.” Owners of pick-up trucks too, after the incident involving the police shooting of two Latino women in one such vehicle, started writing “Not Dorner” on the backs of their trucks. There’s even a I support Dorner Facebook page.
Maybe now people should start wearing shirts that say “I am Dorner,” and demanding that the LAPD be seriously deconstructed and rebuilt as a police department that practices what it says on the sides of its police cars: “Protect and Serve.” It’s a long shot, I know. When I was an editor of a small alternative weekly in Los Angeles, and we broke a story, based upon information we received from a whistle-blowing patrol officer, that the LAPD had a secret official policy that officers should always “shoot to kill” when they fired their weapon, the response of the department was not to justify or change that policy, which was leading to a lot of needless deaths of unarmed residents, but to dispatch an undercover officer from the department’s “Red Squad,” the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, to try and discover our department source.)
One thing’s for sure: if such a reform were instituted in Los Angeles and the cops there started living by their official motto, it would be a new experience entirely for the residents of the city.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.