By James Breedlove
Former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Jordan Dorner, 33, is dead. Monica Quan, 28, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence, 27, are dead. Michael Crain, 34, a police officer with the city of Riverside is dead. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Detective Jeremiah MacKay, 35, is dead.
These five talented, energetic young people were violently and deliberately shot to death in the prime of their lives. Their deaths, in a strange convolution of circumstance, are all inextricably tied to theThin Blue Line more commonly known as the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Dorner, who was fired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009, had vowed revenge on the LAPD and was the subject of a massive manhunt after he allegedly shot Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence. While being hunted for the two murders he subsequently killed the two police officers before taking his own life after the cabin he had barricaded himself in caught fire. His charred body was recovered and positively identified through dental records.
While Dorner’s Rambo-style war against the Los Angeles Police department is over, his allegations of lying, racism and cover-ups and the tragic results could have residual repercussions for the LAPD as dormant animosities between the department and the community are revived.
Los Angeles has a long history of volatile relations with the black community over issues of race and police brutality. Serious incidents such as the Watts Riots of 1965, the Rodney King riots of 1992 or the Rampart Corruption scandal in the late 1990s in which more than 70 police officers were implicated in some form of misconduct while dormant have not been forgotten. Rampart was one of the most widespread cases of documented police misconduct in United States history. The convicted offenses include unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting of false evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury, and the covering up of evidence of these activities. Dorner claimed in his allegation manifesto the department had only gotten worse since the Rampart and Rodney King episodes.
Protesters rallied outside Los Angeles police headquarters in support of Dorner after it was confirmed the body recovered from the burned out cabin was the fugitive ex-cop. Many told reporters covering the protest that they didn’t support Dorner’s violent methods, but believed Dorner’s manifesto claims of racism and unfair treatment by the department.
In an apparent bid to counter this resentment, LAPD Chief Beck announced that he had reopened the department’s investigation into Dorner’s dismissal. “As hard as it has been to change the culture of the Los Angeles Police Department, it has been even more difficult to win and maintain the support of the public,” Beck said. “Therefore I feel we need to also publicly address Dorner’s allegations.” He added that he didn’t take this step “to appease a murderer,” but “to reassure the public that their police department is transparent and fair in all the things we do.”
There is no argument that police have a tough job maintaining law and order. However, sometimes the long arm of the law stretches a bit too far. While the LAPD is the current poster child for stretching the thin blue line it is by no means unique. A Dorner type incident could just as easily have occurred in Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Dallas or any other city.
Do the Abner Louima New York sodomization, the Katrina New Orleans killings, the Howard Morgan Chicago shooting, the Sean Bell Queens bachelor party shooting, the Amadou Diallo Bronx shooting, the Los Angeles Eula Love “accident”, the 93 year old Kathryn Johnston Atlanta shooting, or the Bull Connor Birmingham brutality tactics revive memories of the thin blue line being stretched dangerously close to the breaking point?.
Emotions run rampant when an incident occurs that could potentially incite hostility between the public and the police, especially the minority public. While the LAPD is by no means a perfect police department it is much better than it was. A department once assailed for an insular culture that tolerated racist officers was goaded into a new era of accountability. Scathing reports issued by Independent commissions headed by Warren Christopher (1991) and William Webster (1992) pinpointed root problems such as “too many patrol officers view citizens with resentment and hostility; too many treat the public with rudeness and disrespect.” Prodded by the Department of Justice the concept of policing in partnership with the community was reluctantly embraced and implemented.
If progress is to continue in improving and strengthening the thin blue line between the department and the community emotions need to give way to open and constructive conversation.
Five young people are dead. Pointing fingers of accusation does not bring them back to life. Families, friends and the community can and should mourn their deaths but should also vow their deaths will not be in vain.
There are many reasons why the police have difficult interactions with the communities they are supposed to “serve and protect.” The police deal with the community on several levels: individually, as a group/organization, and as political components. When it appears that law enforcement represents the interests of the communities in which they police, there is general harmony. When police are out of sync with public sentiments, there is discontent and dissention.
The Thin Blue Line is an expression that implies the police are the primary buffer standing between law-abiding citizens and total anarchy. It is a tenuous line at best. Notwithstanding the transgressions that occur on both sides of the line it takes a conscious effort to make it work.
It is in the interests of the police, the public, and the politicians to exert the vigilance and dedication to make that thin line as strong as possible.
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