Toward a Black Jesse James

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DornerVictims.jpg
Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence (Facebook)

In my twitter (and maybe in yours) and around the web, I keep hearing what I can only call an attempt to redeem Christopher Dorner's murderous rampage. These redemption narratives, from what I can tell, are a mish-mash of cynicism, anger and left-wing populism. Heaped on top of that is LAPD's incredibly ugly history of corruption, racism and mayhem. If you've forgotten what a mess that was, go here. Finally, there's the fact that Dorner himself claimed that he was motivated by racism within the department, and that he'd been fired after blowing the whistle on an instance of police brutality. It would not surprise me if both charges were true.


The urge to make myth, to try and redeem humans who commit immoral acts under the flag of moral causes, is understandable. It's understandable in those who look at Jesse James and see not the straight white supremacist, but the scourge of greedy bankers and acquisitive industrialists against whom, it seemed, none could stand. And it's more understandable among a people disproportionately brutalized by the police who look at Christopher Dorner, and see not a murderer but a plague on a police force that is, itself, above the law.

But those who would form hard arguments based on myth need to confront something -- Christopher Dorner was a murderer:

Four days before her death, Monica Quan had news for her team. Quan, an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton, held up her hand to show off an engagement ring. The players screamed and huddled around her for a closer look, head coach Marcia Foster recalled. Quan was as happy as her basketball players, and later said she wished she had recorded the moment. She loved to have pictures taken with her friends. She wanted a big wedding, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence, a public safety officer at USC, was trying to work extra hours to make it possible.... 
The couple was talking about who would be in the wedding party. They had yet to pick a date and a location when they were found Feb. 3, shortly after the Super Bowl, shot to death in their car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium complex. They had multiple gunshot wounds. There were no signs of a robbery, and investigators ruled out a murder-suicide. 
The next day, Quan's father got a call from a close friend of the family. Randal Quan, a former captain with the Los Angeles Police Department, and Wayne Caffey, a detective with the Southeast Division, had known one another for almost 25 years. Caffey recalled their conversation. 

"We lost her," Quan said. "She's gone." The two men were overwhelmed by the senselessness of the slayings. We don't know anything, Quan said; we don't know what happened. He would later learn that his daughter and her fiance were probably killed by a former LAPD officer who had been fired in 2009; Randal Quan had represented Christopher Jordan Dorner at his termination hearing. 

 What was once incomprehensible -- the deaths of these two young people -- was now considered a revenge killing. The reasons were spelled out in an 11,000-word post police found on a Facebook page that they believe belonged to Dorner, 33, who is now a fugitive. 

 "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own," Dorner supposedly wrote. "I'm terminating yours."
I don't really know how anyone, with any sort of coherence, adopts Christopher Dorner as a symbol in the fight against police brutality, given how he brutalized those two human beings. I cannot understand, except to say that sometimes our own anger, our pain, becomes so blinding that we fail to see the pain of others. This is the seed of inhumanity, and inhumanity is the seed of the very police brutality which we all deplore.

In my time here I have blogged relentlessly about police brutality. It's an important and legit issue. When cops brutalize innocent black people, they erode the contract between citizen and country. But the case against police brutality enjoys more eloquent, and more moral, voices than a coward who ambushes innocent people in a parking garage. We don't need a Jesse James. No one needs a Jesse James.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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