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Christopher Dorner: Cop-Killer or Martyr?

Almost as chilling as the retribution murders allegedly committed by Christopher Dorner are the Internet postings, sympathizing with and supporting him.
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Almost as chilling as the retribution murders allegedly committed by former Los Angeles cop Christopher Dorner are the Internet postings, sympathizing with and supporting him.

In his 15,000-word manifesto, posted on his Facebook page, Dorner named retired LAPD captain and attorney Randal Quan and his family as one of some 40 targets of revenge because of Quan's representation of Dorner in a departmental trial that led to his firing.

Last Sunday, Quan's 28-year-old daughter and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, were shot-gunned to death in their car. Dorner is the chief suspect.

His manifesto described a lifetime of racial discrimination, culminating in the LAPD's firing him for protesting police corruption and brutality.

To some, that may be justification enough to ignore his killings and to view him instead as a victim.

Martyrdom may be just around the corner.

That's what happened in New York three decades ago to Larry Davis, a 20-year-old, black drug dealer from the Bronx.

On Nov. 19, 1986, Davis shot and wounded six white cops in his sister's apartment. He claimed the cops had come there to kill him and that he was victim of racial discrimination and police corruption.

He fled, then hid out for three weeks while the NYPD conducted a city-wide manhunt, closing off street after street, building after building, trapping him in an East Bronx high-rise.

As police led him out of the building, apartment residents applauded him, shouting out, "Lar-ry, Lar-ry."

Support for Davis did not end there. In fact, it was just the beginning.

At his trial, the police maintained they had come to the sister's apartment to question him about the execution-style killing of four drug dealers.

With no evidence, Davis' longtime civil rights attorney, William Kunstler, claimed the police had come there to murder Davis to prevent him from disclosing information about drug-dealing cops.

During the trial, Father Lawrence Lucas, a black Roman Catholic priest, brought a class of students to observe the proceedings as an anti-police civics lesson. Entering the courtroom, Lucas strode over to Kunstler and gave him a friendly bear hug.

The jury, comprised of 10 black and two Hispanic members, acquitted Davis of shooting the cops, accepting his assertion that he had fired in self-defense.

The jury also acquitted him of six counts of aggravated assault. He was convicted only of the least serious crime, possession of a weapon.

After the verdict, Kunstler's co-counsel Lynn Stewart said, "The black community is no longer going to have black Sambos, they're going to have black Rambos."

Davis was also acquitted of killing the four drug dealers.

Such was his persona that when a relative died, Davis, still in custody, was permitted to attend the funeral. Crowds lined the street and applauded him as his police caravan passed along the Grand Concourse.

Almost forgotten is that a black district attorney pursued Davis, and ultimately convicted him of another drug-related murder. He got the max: 25 to life. Ironically, that district attorney, Robert Johnson, has been decried by at least one NYPD commissioner as "anti-cop."

After his death, Davis -- who was fatally stabbed by another prisoner in 2008 -- became something of a martyr.

Some people today view him as a folk hero and urban legend, admired both for eluding the police and standing up to them.

Films and television documentaries have been made of his life. His daughter created a website in his honor. He even has a Wikipedia page.

Also forgotten is that when race or ethnicity comes into play, alienated Americans of all sorts tend to revere the outlaw.

At the turn of the 20th century when Jews were impoverished immigrants, they cast a large shadow as organized crime figures.

When four gangsters, three of them Jews, were executed for the murder of Herman Rosenthal, a notorious Jewish gambler, Jewish orphans at a Lower East Side settlement house stood at attention in their honor at precisely the moment of their execution.

Writer Andy Logan relates this in her National Book Award-winning Against the Evidence. The source: Iowa-born Harry Hopkins, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's closest advisors. Earlier in his career as a social worker on the Lower East Side, he had witnessed this.

As for Dorner, his manifesto described a lifetime of racial taunts, starting with school kids, repeatedly calling him, the only black child in his class, "nigger."

A Middle East war veteran, demolitions expert and sharpshooter, he said in his manifesto that he protested any and all discrimination in the LAPD, aiding a Jewish recruit taunted by cops, singing Nazi songs.

"I was the one who stood up for [the Jewish officer] when other recruits sang Nazi Hitler youth songs about burning Jewish ghettoes in World War II Germany where his father was a survivor of a concentration camp," he wrote.

He says he also objected to lesbian cops who had it in for males, and black cops who had it in for whites.

He says he broke apart after he accused a superior officer of kicking a homeless man, then was charged with fabricating the incident, found guilty and fired.

The manifesto warned that his 40 targets and their families will be harmed. "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own," his manifesto reads. "I'm terminating yours."

Besides Quan, Dorner named former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton as a target of revenge.

Bratton, who signed Dorner's dismissal order in 2008, now lives in New York City.

"It's chilling and upsetting," his wife, Ricki Klieman, said Sunday.

This reporter knows something of "chilling." Davis telephoned me from prison, threatening to kill me because of an unfavorable story I wrote about him in New York Newsday. When he was killed in prison, I didn't celebrate it but I did breathe easier.

Current LAPD Chief Charles Beck, also named as a Dorner target, has announced he will re-examine Dorner's firing, although not "to appease a murderer," Beck said. "I do it to reassure the public that their police department is transparent and fair in all the things we do."

Unfortunately, the LAPD has already overreacted to Dorner's threats with a near-tragic fatality. Cops shot two Hispanic women delivering newspapers, believing their car resembled Dorner's.

Let's see what reassurance Beck offers the public in disciplining those pumped-up cops. Let's see how fair and transparent that process will be.

Otherwise, Beck's actions will only encourage those who already view Dorner as a victim -- with martyrdom close by.

"I read the manifesto and I believe this man," posted someone named Jeanelle.

Someone named Kenyatta wrote: "Do what you must... praying for you."

With editing from Don Forst

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