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Dorner as the paragon of our violent culture

A cop who feels he was wrongly fired to cover up brutality in the LAPD goes on a murderous rampage, targeting cops and their loved ones in an act of revenge and to bring light to the corruption of the force. Sounds like a Hollywood plot, right? It is of course the true story of Christopher Dorner, which played out dramatically in the media earlier this month.

But in a way it is a Hollywood plot. A one-man army going outside the law to seek justice is a common trope in action flicks, and Dorner's saga generated comparisons with Rambo and Falling Down, among others, in the media. He was the so-called "chaotic good" agent, doing what was necessary to confront the corrupt powers-that-be. So it was a tragedy that was almost bound to happen due to how our culture celebrates violence.

Clearly the LAPD and big-city police forces in general have an image problem. When the public was exposed to Dorner's claim that he was fired in retaliation for reporting policy brutality, it was widely accepted as probable. People were commenting that for once, the madman's manifesto actually made some sense.

In the course of the manhunt police lived up to the caricature, twice shooting at innocent people who happened to be driving pickup trucks, and deploying their increasingly-militarized arsenal against Dorner, including aerial drones. In the inevitable final shoot-out, Dorner took his own life rather than suffer the flames ignited by the police's incendiary grenades.

With Dorner appealing to cultural hero narratives and the police fulfilling a cartoonish expectation of brutality, it was no surprise that we started seeing the following headline: "Dorner has supporters in social media." That is, many people had come to root for Dorner and were expressing those sentiments in public on the internet. Now some people I think were just expressing sympathy for Dorner's firing, saying that they find his totally-believable story to be credible. But still others seemed to support the rampage itself.

Dorner was the worst sort of criminal - a cold-blooded killer. His attacks targeted not only police officers, but their family members as well. So there should be no respect for his actions, whatsoever. To me it is insane to think that a shooting rampage is a just protest against policy brutality. I know many, if not most people in the US would agree with that.

Yet in our culture, violence is portrayed as the ultimate embodiment of justice. In Hollywood works, and law enforcement, and politics, and foreign policy, it is the redemptive force which brings about good in the end. In so many cases it is the climactic gunshot or fist fight or cruise missile which wraps the story and gives closure to the plot.

So when the socially legitimate violence of the police is undermined, I am not surprised that some people would view Dorner's violence as justified. After all, violence is necessary to achieve good, and if the police are abusing it, somebody should set things right with a gun, right?

Of course not. Escalating police violence is a real problem in this country. We need to decrease the militarized nature of the police, lower overall violence, and increase consequences for the improper use of force. But those need to be achieved through peaceful and lawful means, not through a psychotic rampage. If Dorner has any legacy, it should be to show that our culture is too sympathetic to violence, and that this needs to be corrected.

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