I have vivid recollection of the television images of the Howard University law students holding hands then erupting in excited jubilation when the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial was announced.
I was in a predominantly White law school at the time. Someone from the law library wheeled a TV and cart to the atrium so that students passing through class or heading to study could pause as the televised deliberations carried on. In my atrium, there was no applause but rather somber sighs of disappointment and grief. I recall one classmate actually crying outside over what she just knew was a miscarriage of justice that a man she just knew was Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman’s killer just got set free.
For days after some of my classmates stopped talking to me. It was as if I was a de facto member of the collective celebration of African Americans nationwide and they resented me for that. Back then, the reaction was not so much because they were happy to see a person get away with murder, rather it was a universal “I told you so.”
Before then, there had been many case studies, reports, commissions, petitions, organizations and other grassroots and academic effort out there suggesting the criminal justice system was flawed. Only no one really cared to listen because the balance was tipped against Black and Hispanic offenders. The O.J. Simpson jury was a resounding finger wag. Now will you believe?
Fast forward 16 years, Tuesday night, former cop Christopher Dorner and suspected spree killer kept police on a manhunt. He publishing a rambling manifesto declaring his intention to go on a killing rampage. Then, when several people related to or connected to his firing ending up dead, it was a no brainer that Dorner most likely was the culprit.
But on Twitter, Facebook, various online and off line platforms and at water coolers some people were rooting for him – some did so as an affront to “the establishment” as a symbol of all they disliked about the criminal justice system. Admittedly, while preparing to watch and tweet out the President’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, I too got hooked on the chase and became fascinated with Dorner’s moves. It was after all like a scene out of a movie, or at least a flashback to the 1994 O.J. Simpson White Bronco chase.
Then, the next day it hit me that what they, we, were rooting on was a killer who decided to opt for vigilante justice to revenge what he perceived was wrong actions against him. In his manifesto, Dorner declared that there was a racial motivation behind his earlier firing from the Los Angeles police force. He decided to be judge, juror and executioner against those he felt were responsible for it all.
How is that not like gang leaders shooting at crowds as they aim for a rival leader who they felt deserved to be dead? Isn’t that how Hadiya Pendleton wound up dead in the first place? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the middle of someone else’s vigilante attempt?
And there it was. Elation from people from the same communities nationwide facing some of the violence as South Side Chicago and who routinely plea for the government, the president and for more people in general to care about the gang problem and to rise up to see it end. Interestingly enough, some of them were also the very same ones spewing conspiracy theories about the LAPD, elevating the man to hero status, joyfully declaring how elated they were that he possibly could have gotten away and that really wasn’t his body just positively identified and that he is really in Mexico.
I’ve heard all the justifications about how the media has quickly painted him in the most heinous light. How quickly he is called a vicious criminal and his guilt declared (manifesto aside), while other killers of different races are given the benefit of doubt and called disturbed. I get the language disparity. Totally. Then there was declaring that cheering on Dorner was really rooting against the law enforcement institution and perceived corruption, evidence tampering, suspect set up allegations, the denial of people of color due process and constitutional rights, and disparity and inequity of the criminal justice system in general, against the interests of black and Latinos. I get it.
Those things exist. There is definitely more to this story. No doubt.
But 15 years later, as an adult with a family and responsibility, I just can’t help but think selfishly and put myself in the shoes of Dorner’s victims. My father in law is a cop and I most likely wouldn’t want to be shot dead because a subordinate of his had a vendetta to carry out. Nope.
No doubt, I like many others wanted him to give up the chase, come forward, plea his case and be tried, similarly to how James Holmes is being tried for the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. Rather, he chose to keep up the chase, possibly enjoyed the nationwide attention after all his manifesto had mention of several celebrities and plausibly he wanted to become one as well.
After all, our society elevate people for being really good in their craft and unintentionally also make famous those who do very bad.
And since it’s easier to be known for the latter, some just choose that route. But that doesn’t mean we all have to take the bait.