Feb. 13 — President Obama’s annual speech to Congress was overshadowed by events far more revealing of the true “state of the union” than any politician’s hollow rhetoric.
On the West Coast, in the hours before the president’s speech on Feb. 12, police lay siege to Christopher Dorner and likely killed him in cold blood.
Dorner, an African-American man, Navy veteran and former police officer, had declared war on the Los Angeles Police Department in a manifesto posted on his Facebook page, titled “Last Resort.” It detailed years of racist abuse and corruption by the LAPD, including his own firing in 2009, and included a hit list of culpable police. In the days after his statement came to light, the LAPD said he had killed three people, including one officer, a cop’s daughter and her fiancé.
On Feb. 12, Dorner — or rather, someone suspected to be him but never definitely identified — holed up in a cabin near Big Bear Mountain outside San Bernadino, Calif., where he was surrounded by police.
After a shootout that left one sheriff’s deputy dead and another wounded, a SWAT team laid siege to the cabin, ramming it with a tank-like vehicle. The team fired tear gas and probably incendiary weapons into the cabin and set it ablaze. A raging inferno quickly burned it to the ground.
Overnight, police reported recovering a charred body from the smoking wreckage. So far there has been no positive identification of the remains, but as of this writing police seem confident that they succeeded in their goal of lynching another rebellious Black person — and silencing a potential source of damning information.
When a CBS News reporter tweeted that people from the area had gathered near the site of the siege holding signs saying, “Don’t kill Dorner,” the corporate media incredulously asked, “How could they?”
In fact, these courageous individuals were the tip of the iceberg. Dorner’s one-man armed campaign spoke to a widespread and deep hatred of the LAPD, especially in the African-American and Latino/a communities, where the police serve as a racist army of occupation on behalf of the rich.
The Rodney King beating, the 1992 LA Rebellion, the Ramparts Division scandal, and myriad cases of police brutality and murder are still fresh in the minds of millions of people in southern California and around the world.
All this mattered far more to them than the political confusion and contradictions reflected in Dorner’s online manifesto.
After two Latinas were wounded and a white man threatened at gunpoint by cops supposedly searching for Dorner, many people took to marking their vehicles and even their bodies with the words, “Don’t shoot. I’m not Christopher Dorner” — especially Black men with his body type. They were well aware of the LAPD’s “shoot-first” philosophy when it comes to people of color.
Support for Dorner spread quickly over social media with hash tags like #WeStandWithDorner and #GoDornerGo. Some described him as a modern-day Django, after the semi-fictional character in Quentin Tarrantino’s controversial film.
The African People’s Socialist Party and International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement launched an online campaign, “Chris Dorner is welcome here!” The groups urged people around the world to repost with their location, reminiscent of window posters hung for Angela Davis when she was a fugitive in 1970.
The hacker collective Anonymous launched Operation Dorner. A video addressed to the LAPD declared the collective’s intent to do whatever it could to disrupt the manhunt and called on people to rise against police terror.
Even mainstream sources like Ebony magazine joined in ironically retweeting Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck’s hypocritical statement, “To be targeted because of what you are, that is absolutely terrifying.” He was referring to his fellow police, of course, not the people of color routinely targeted by the LAPD.
Joe Jones, another Black former LAPD officer, issued his own manifesto. While opposing Dorner’s actions, Jones also backed up many of his charges with his own experiences of racism on the force.
Drones over California
The British newspaper Express reported Feb. 10 that an unnamed police official said they would use drones to hunt for Dorner, claiming, “The thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.” The use of drones was confirmed by Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson Ralph DeSio, but the agency later retracted his statement. LAPD officials refused to confirm or deny the use of drones.
The Border Patrol routinely uses drones in its racist war against undocumented workers on the U.S./Mexican border. If confirmed, the use of drones in the Dorner manhunt would be the first official deployment against a citizen within U.S. borders — a significant escalation in the domestic use of this repressive and potentially deadly technology.
Cops: ‘Burn it down’
When the final showdown came, the LAPD had a carefully scripted media plan. But events didn’t follow the script. Not only were there pro-Dorner protesters — censored from live television coverage — but police blew it on air as well.
On KCAL9, a cop was caught on air in midafternoon yelling, “Burn it down. Burn the motherf—ker down!” before the cabin was engulfed in flames. A quick-thinking viewer uploaded the coverage to YouTube before it could be “corrected.”
During the inferno, CNN quoted police on the scene who said they “pushed him back in” to the burning cabin when Dorner tried to escape. This contradicted later claims that Dorner had probably killed himself with a single gunshot before the fire started.
For much of the siege, CNN and other networks followed police commands to stop broadcasting live footage, even from the seven-mile distance media helicopters were restricted to. Police claimed it was in case Dorner had TV or internet access inside the cabin.
Compare this self-censorship with the revelation days before that the Washington Post, New York Times and other major media had agreed to government demands to cover up the existence of a U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia.
An MSNBC reporter asked a resident, “Were you worried when you learned that Christopher Dorner was so close to your house?”
“Actually,” the witness replied, “I was just afraid of the cops.”
Christopher Dorner was no revolutionary. His actions as a single, armed individual didn’t constitute a viable strategy for struggle against the LAPD or the racist, capitalist system it defends. Dorner didn’t espouse a political program of struggle against the system or for the liberation of Black people.
But his explosive actions forced the long-silenced issue of racist police brutality to the forefront and inspired many — this in a country where a Black person is murdered by police, security guards and vigilantes every 36 hours on average, as documented last year by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
Now it is the responsibility of revolutionary activists, people’s organizations, labor and students, and all progressive forces to take up the fight against racist police terror in a serious way, to build on this elemental outburst of righteous anger that Dorner embodied. That must be combined with a political program of fightback, including community control of the police, the abolition of racist occupation gangs like the LAPD and New York Police Department, and, crucially, the right of oppressed and working-class communities to organized, armed self-defense.