Here at Popehat, we write quite a bit about the abuse of power by law enforcement and how the state and culture permit it. You might assume I came to that point of view in the course of 12 years of work as a criminal defense attorney. You'd be wrong; I came to it as a prosecutor — including, but not limited to, my exposure to the Rampart case.
There are good cops, and bad cops, and indifferent cops, just like there are good and bad and indifferent members of any other profession. Bad cops tend to have a more profound and destructive impact on the lives of their victims than, say, bad barristas or bad insurance salesmen. I anticipate thinking about, professionally opposing, and writing about police misconduct for the rest of my career. I believe it happens more than it is reported, I believe it is generally excused by law enforcement culture and ignored by most political figures, and I believe it is generally treated by the media as an it-bleeds-so-it-leads spectacle rather than a problem that undermines the foundations of our social compact.
But I don't automatically believe that every accusation of police misconduct is true. I particularly don't believe it's true just because a disturbed murderer claims it.
That's why I am mystified and perturbed by the reaction in some quarters to the rampage by former LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner. I see, in various locations, people suggesting that Dorner was pushed into his rampage by police corruption, that he's vindicating wrongs done to him, that he speaks truth about police corruption, that he's exposing something.
This is shocking.
Dorner claims that he reported police abuse and was fired for it. I don't know if that's true or not. It could be. It would not surprise me. I'm sure it has happened before and will happen again. Cops abuse citizens. Cops lie. The system — prosecutors, courts, law enforcement administration, police unions, even the media — cover for it.
But it's madness to take the word of a madman uncritically.
Dorner murdered the child of a (real or imagined) enemy and that child's fiance. His manifesto threatens the families of people he hates. His manifesto rambles about not just police abuse he alleges, but about wrongs done to him in elementary and high school. He rages at racism but indulges in it himself, stereotyping Latinos and Asians. He wavers between decrying police abuse to quoting Mia Farrow and congratulating Christopher Waltz's performance in "Inglorious Basterds."
He's a lunatic.
Lunatics might be right, coincidentally, about defects in the system, about injustices systematically and unfeelingly imposed. But it's grave error to take them at face value, let alone to make them heroes. The fact that Dorner is a murderous lunatic makes it utterly rational — in fact, imperative for honest people — to question whether the specific instances of alleged abuse he complains of are grounded in fact or lunacy. Dorner's rampage — his decision to murder the innocent in pursuit of his vision of justice — makes him an appallingly inappropriate hero for for the struggle against police misconduct, which after all is a phenomenon resulting from people believing that the ends justify the means.
Yesterday Clark wrote of the logical fallacy "I don't like result Y, fact X implies Y, therefore X must not be true." He's right. Similarly, "I hate police abuse, this madman hates police abuse, therefore this madman must be right" is a fallacy. The enemy of our enemy is not our friend. Don't treat him like one.