Now that I've actually read Los Angeles ex-cop-turned-cop-killer Christopher Dorner's manifesto, I understand why so many folks on social media sympathize with him.
What I don't understand is how that sympathy can survive more than five seconds of even casual moral scrutiny.
Once Dorner's charred carcass is positively identified, the myth-making will begin in earnest. The man who repeatedly called his solitary war against the Los Angeles Police Department a "necessary evil" went down in the flames of a ski resort cabin before he could honor his threat to kill a long list of cops he accused of harassment and betrayal.
One cable news pundit compared Dorner's killing spree to the antics of the title character in "Django Unchained," Quentin Tarantino's slavery-revenge fantasy.
"Now don't get me wrong," CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill said after a momentary lapse into hyperbole. "What [Dorner] did is awful; killing people is bad. ... Many people aren't rooting for him to kill innocent people. They're rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system."
The LAPD earned its reputation as one of the most corrupt and violent police forces in America from decades of poor supervision. A string of civilian lawsuits and corruption scandals brought it under a federal consent decree from which it probably won't emerge for several years.
It doesn't take an uncanny stretch of imagination to give Dorner the benefit of the doubt when it comes to many of his charges. They don't seem weird or unlikely, given the LAPD's sordid and well-documented history of racism, brutality and corruption. For years, it made Philly's scandal-plagued police department look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
No one will be shocked if media and internal police investigations substantiate many of Dorner's claims. Firing Dorner for being a whistle-blower would be yet another indictment against the LAPD, but there's nothing remotely admirable about what he did to draw attention to his complaints.
No one should lose sight of the fact that Dorner killed and wounded people who had nothing to do with his firing. And even if they had been on his list, that wouldn't have given him the right to take their lives. In doing so, Dorner revealed himself to be far worse than the most corrupt cop. During his last shootout with police, he killed an officer who had become a father four months ago.
So why is the temptation to make a folk hero out of Dorner almost irresistible in some circles, given the destruction he left in his wake? The alienation from the LAPD in Southern California is understandable, but that doesn't explain the killer's popularity across the country. Dorner tapped into something deep that resonated with many Americans during his rampage.
Like Stagger Lee of the old Lloyd Price song and Negro legend, there's an emotional kick that comes with cheering the exploits of a killer, as long as he's sufficiently charismatic and bad-ass. It is a mentality that has shielded many young criminals from arrest for crimes committed in neighborhoods that they literally occupy and terrorize.
One of the ironies of Dorner's siege against the LAPD is that an ex-cop succeeded in uniting Crips and Bloods, two warring gangs that have never been fans of the police, in a grudging respect for his exploits. There probably wasn't a criminal in all of LA who wasn't cheering for Dorner. He was O.J. Simpson, Stagger Lee and Rambo all rolled into one.
Cops in Los Angeles were so freaked out by Dorner's threat to wage a stealthy, but bloody, guerrilla war against them that they shot up a vehicle with two Latina women in it, thinking it contained the fugitive.
Overnight, a cottage industry sprang up mocking the frayed nerves of the police. Just as "Don't Snitch" became the hot street mantra on urban T-shirts a few years ago, "Don't Shoot! I'm not Chris Dorner" made money for entrepreneurs eager to exploit fear of the police and cynicism about their competence.
Though obviously self-serving, Dorner's online manifesto doesn't display any of the contempt for humanity that Ted "The Unabomber" Kaczynski's did. It isn't the same kind of misanthropic screed. It is a very disturbed man's attempt to justify his unjustifiable actions.
"I'm not an aspiring rapper, I'm not a gang member, I'm not a dope dealer, I don't have multiple babies momma's [sic]. I am an American by choice ... I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system," Dorner wrote.
Like every killer, Dorner probably saw himself as the misunderstood good guy until the very end.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.