by Cristin Johnson
Earlier this month, America was consumed by media coverage of the ten-day manhunt for rogue former-LAPD officer and suspected murderer Christopher Jordan Dorner. As a case study, the Christopher Dorner saga invites an unconventional conversation, exposing a variety of questions that comprise the main themes of Professor Thane Rosenbaum’s seminar on “Human Rights, the Holocaust, and the Law.”
Dorner initiated his campaign for revenge through social media, publishing an online manifesto on Facebook in which he vowed to wage warfare against the alleged racism and corruption pervading the LAPD. Surprisingly, Dorner has garnered social media support from those sympathizing with his motives. Proponents have depicted the LAPD as a caldron of hate. Some were already skeptical of law enforcement and their treatment of minorities, infamously exposed twenty-two years ago following the Rodney King verdict and subsequent LA riots.
Waves of advocacy for Dorner continue to infiltrate social media outlets. From “trending” hashtags (#TeamDorner) to Facebook groups entitled “We Are all Chris Dorner,” social media participants have lionized Dorner, praising him as a hero partaking in a crusade against a corrupt, racist establishment. This was an act of revenge against the system by someone who allegedly suffered wrongs, raging against injustice. But this goes beyond society’s seemingly primal desire to side with the underdog.
Initially, I was disgusted by those championing Dorner, which I perceived as promoting violence and the disrespect of human life. This must be yet another example of how technology detaches people from the actual lived experience. Through online identities, we have created an anonymous forum through which people may spiritually injure each other. Has technology really diminished our capacity for empathy?
Despite these unanswered questions, we can’t ignore Dorner’s manifesto by simply dismissing it as evidence of a deranged lunatic, or a distraught man suffering from mental illness. Instead of disapproving of Facebook “fan pages” and Twitter encouragement, we must ask why so many on social media have proclaimed support for a man accused of four revenge killings.
Social media buzz demonstrates how focus has strayed from that which typically dominates media coverage of such atrocities. Here, we have not confined the analysis exclusively to the violent aftermath of the gunman’s rage. We must continue to examine the nature and causes of such aggression in order to protect against similar episodes of frontier justice in the future. By focusing on the motivation behind the atrocity, we begin to recognize the unacknowledged hurts Dorner purportedly suffered. To deny is perhaps the most mortal of all wounds, and the most immoral of all injuries.
It’s commendable that social media has acknowledged Dorner’s alleged spiritual violence. However, even if Dorner’s claims are true, the fact remains that this was an unjust retaliation, a grossly disproportionate revenge. In order to be moral, revenge must be proportionate. We must safeguard against such institutional injustice. By recognizing spiritual harm and emotional injury, we can provide victims with a platform through which to air grievances, thus diminishing the need for vigilante justice.