Although I wrote a blog addressing Christopher already. I’m writing this one in response to social and conventional media commentary I’ve come across in these recent days leading up to his alleged death in a Big Bear Ski Resort cabin.
I believe Black scholars and those of us who are politically conscious share a “righteous burden” to first and foremost, in the words of poet Mari Evans, “SPEAK THE TRUTH TO THE PEOPLE.” Easy enough we might think, until we consider just how nuanced and complicated the truth is in many cases.
And if the truth we speak refers to Black people, we must remember Dr. Amos Wilson’s profound advice, ” We cannot understand anything in the realm of Black experience or activity without understanding how such activity is governed or impacted by the phenomenon of White Supremacy.”
The provocative case of Christopher Dorner is fascinating in what it reveals about the American psyche and the limitations of our own analysis regardless of how well-intentioned we are.
Just yesterday, frustrated by what I considered Dorner-bashing, I posted the following rant on Facebook:
I believe everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I am so profoundly disappointed with Black and brown people who decry Chris Dorner’s retributive violence toward “innocent” people but are conspicuously silent regarding the MILLIONS of our innocent people systemically victimized by unbridled state-sanctioned murder and brutality from enslavement to the present! the LAPD will DEFINITELY hold Dorner accountable for his deeds either by killing or imprisoning him. But WHO held/holds slave owners, racist vigilante groups, imperialists, the CIA, or local law enforcement agencies accountable for the African bones stretched across the Atlantic Ocean floor, the swinging Black bodies on Southern trees, the dismembered bodies of Diasporan laborers, the bullet-ridden bodies of our leaders, or the chalk-lined mangled bodies of Black and Brown youth throughout American streets? Our collective historical memory is suspiciously brief it would appear. Perhaps we’d be further along if we addressed these CHRONIC, SYSTEMIC AND UNPUNISHED ACTS rather than the isolated, solitary and soon-to-be-punished actions of Chris Dorner who is yet another VICTIM of the system. Enough is enough!
Soon afterwards, I read a Black Agenda Report article by Glenn Ford entitled “Christopher Dorner: The Defector Who Went Out With a Bang.” Ford essentially took the Black public to task for elevating Dorner to the heroic status of Nat Turner or Dan Freeman, the fictional protagonist in Sam Greenlee’s legendary protest novel, “The Spook Who Sat By the Door.”
According to Ford, Dorner was neither the proactive “leader of men” Turner was, nor the CIA-trained brother that used the enemy’s skills and tactics to ignite Black revolution in the manner of Dan Freeman in “Spook.” Unlike these true Black heroes worthy of our legitimate admiration and support, Ford argues that Dorner was a brainwashed self-absorbed,and disillusioned American patriot who naively joined America’s racist occupational forces in the first place. Or in Ford’s words, “Christopher Dorner enlisted no one in his fatal and solitary vendetta against those he felt had done him personal harm. He died alone trying to hide his huge Black self in a mostly white mountain recreation area, leaving behind a “manifesto” that was mainly about himself and his service to the national and local armed forces.”
I follow Ford’s blog regularly and admire his penetrating intellect and analytical prowess. In fact, I rarely disagree with his insights and believe his argument even in this case is fundamentally sound. Yet I take issue with his somewhat insensitive and judgmental view of Dorner, his failure to raise the larger political issues, and his inability to appreciate why Black people view Dorner in heroic fashion.
Sadly Ford’s views reflect that of other Black people who although progressive or radical, take a quizzically conservative and uninspired position of Dorner’s significance and meaning. Ford’s condescending reference to Dorner’s supporters and sympathizers as”fans” speaks to this point. I for one (and there are many brothers and sisters like me) are not simple-minded Dorner “fans,” or “cheerleaders.”
For us, the issue is less about him and more about what he and this incident represents.For many Black people, the Dorner saga involves the deep-seated and sensitive issues of corrupt law enforcement agencies that brutalize our community then misuse their power to protect the racist culprits, and intimidate civilians into lying for them. We support Dorner because we understand being wrongfully terminated from a job and we understand being constantly betrayed by a criminal justice system that almost NEVER works to our advantage. Unlike Ford, who saw only selfishness or disillusionment in the “manifesto,” We read the document and supported his mission to vindicate himself because we recalled unfair attempts to smear our own our good names, work records and reputations. We accorded Dorner respect for attempting to expose and challenge police brutality and the infamous “Blue wall of silence” of the police force. WE recognized in him an honest officer who placed the fair treatment of civilians over the protection of state-sanctioned bullies. And while many of us did not condone his vengeance killing due to our religious of spiritual beliefs, we understood.
Every time the reporters referred to Dorner killing “innocent” people, our historical memory flashed back to vignettes of enslavement, dismemberment, lynchings, false imprisonment, castration, rape and assassinations…. most of which remain unsolved and unpunished. And it doesn’t matter if Dorner himself voiced these larger issues. The point here is that when we saw this tortured and persecuted brother take a lone, defiant stand ,we understood and our hearts went out to him. Instead of making the masses feel guilty or duped for supporting this brother, Ford and others might consider exploring WHY his story resonated with so many of us.
I should also note that Dorner’s supporters are not ignorant or impressionable children unable to distinguish between a revolutionary figure like Nat Turner with group liberation on his mind and a man like Chris Dorner. Our willingness to pray for his escape, or to create Facebook pages in his honor speaks both to the issues I raised above and to our own need and desire to experience justice and hope in America.
Moreover, where is Ford’s critique of the sensationalist corporate media, police corruption and ineptitude ( the last time I checked, they shot innocent people in their attempt to apprehend their suspect), the flawed California court system, or any number of larger issues in this case? Where is his indictment of the system that instigated this entire affair in the first place? What are his thoughts about Dorner’s mission to clear his name and the significance of this mission? What does this incident reveal about the American psyche, institutional racism, or our construction of heroic identity? These are the larger questions we expect our left-leaning intellectuals to engage, not insulting diatribes that express sentiments like, “Nobody told you to work for the enemy. You got what you deserved. What else did you expect? Why should we support your misled, self-absorbed, and reactionary suicide mission? I pity you and the ignorant schmucks that support you.”
If indeed our troubled brother is dead, I pray that he rests in peace. We the living must organize and challenge a wicked system that would lead a good integrity-filled man to take such desperate actions and to soften the hearts of those so judgmental and unappreciative of what and who he represents or our ability to choose whom we support.
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.