It’s a truly American expression born of America’s gun culture, one that simultaneously captures the overblown dysfunction of the U.S. Postal Service and the predominance of individualist violence over collectivist action by working people fed up and pushed to the brink.
The mass shooting in Columbine, Colorado in 1999 during NATO’s air war on Serbia marked a turning point in what has become the history of mass shootings in the U.S. What made Columbine different was the killers’ demographic (well-off white males) and the setting (a suburban school instead of a workplace), a pattern repeated at Sandy Hook in 2012. The Postal Service could not be blamed, so new villains were found: Marilyn Manson, outcasts wearing trenchcoats to school, video games like Mortal Kombat, and Hollywood.
Conservatives used the shooting to go after these targets while liberals aimed for more gun control. Neither side had anything to say about the bullying and peer orientation that created the context in which a Columbine could happen. Both took the easy route by fighting over how to treat the symptoms of a deeper social malaise rather than exploring the human psyche’s darker, more sinister dimensions in the cultural context of modern-day capitalism.
The far left’s reaction to the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 suffered from the same basic failing. Within days of Sandy Hook, Republican Mike Huckabee disgraced himself by claiming that the ban on officially sanctioned prayer in public schools was to blame while an equally beside-the-point reaction took hold on the far left as memes appeared on Facebook mocking President Obama for pontificating about the preciousness of children’s lives while authorizing the assassination of Rahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy in Yemen.
For both the right and the left, these grisly killings became fodder for political warfare rather than an occasion for thoughtful reflection or heartfelt solidarity with the victims.
There is a world of difference between the genuine expression of empathy by victims of the American empire pictured above in Karachi, Pakistan, and the left’s point-scoring even though they involved the same political issues. The former related their own suffering to the families in Sandy Hook who lost loved ones; the latter used the former’s suffering to assume the mantle of moral superiority over Obama. Obama’s murderous hypocrisy is what mattered, not the lives of children and teachers cut short by gunman Adam Lanza.
This phenomenon was even more pronounced when the Sandy Hook shootings were discussed by the news outlets of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative in their respective articles, “How Could This Happen?” by Nicole Colson and “Tragic Events in Newtown — The Corrosive Effects of a Declining Capitalism” by Marty Harrison and Tony Wilsdon. Both articles mentioned the for-profit health care industry and spending cuts to mental health services as if Lanza would have been impeded by either, given that he lived in a mansion with his mother and that his father is a General Electric executive. Both articles informed us that we live in a horribly violent society controlled by a horribly violent ruling class, that politicians of this horribly violent ruling class would use the shootings to make hypocritical speeches about the sanctity of human life, and, last but not least, that horrible violence is built into the very fabric of the capitalist social order.
In essence, these articles treated mass shootings as a case for socialism, as if snuffing out capitalism should be at the forefront of political discourse when the lives of innocent men, women, and children infants are snuffed out by heavily armed mentally ill gunmen.
The tens of thousands of dollars that strangers donated to pay the Aurora and Sandy Hook survivors’ exorbitant medical bills and funeral expenses was more of a socialist act than the crass, reductionist condemnations of capitalism that these shootings elicited. How many socialist groups organized fund drives or collections at their weekly or monthly meetings to help the victims pay these bills? How many embedded click-able donation links to funds for the victims in their articles discussing the shootings?
Capitalism puts profits over people and deserves to be scrapped for that reason; a socialist movement that puts politics over people does not deserve any better. A heartless left is a worthless left.
What separated Christopher Dorner’s shooting rampage from the Aurora and Sandy Hook massacres was the shooter’s motivation. His 11,000-word diatribe, two parts declaration of war on his former employer, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and one part suicide note, with heartfelt last words to friends, mentors, politicians, and celebrities, is worth reading in its entirety.
Trotsky famously said, “the worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” This was a case of an honest bourgeois cop going postal.
What Trotsky could not have foreseen is how class and racial contradictions have created fissures within the modern police force. In the past two years, retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis joined Occupy Wall Street, officer Christopher Rorey begged Occupy Atlanta for help fighting foreclosure, the austerity drive obliterated the police officers’ union in Camden, New Jersey, and now we have Dorner’s damning indictment of the entire LAPD, from its rank-and-file officers all the way up to the top of the chain of command. Not only did LAPD personnel punish whistleblowers like himself, they routinely let civilians bleed to death in the street for the sake of collecting overtime pay and taking cell phone pictures and shake down drug dealers to pocket petty cash. Dorner noted the complex way special oppressions play out inside the force, with Hispanic officers deriding “wetbacks,” black commanders exacting “retribution toward subordinate [sic] caucasians officers,” and “lesbian officers in supervising positions who go to work, day in day out, with the sole intent of attempting to prove your misandrist authority (not feminism) to degrade male officers.”
The effectiveness of the far left’s anti-police propaganda pales in comparison to Dorner’s no-holds-barred exposé of the dirt that goes down behind the thin blue line on a regular basis. Facebook pages sprang up touting him as a hero (“like” at your own risk; Facebook is a law enforcement agency’s best friend). His supporters felt that he had the moral high ground against the LAPD despite his heinous, murderous actions, and there are many who would never “like” a pro-Dorner Facebook page who were nonetheless sympathetic to his underlying motives and personal plight.
Dorner enjoyed surprising sympathy and support precisely because he was no ideologue, he was not of the left or the right, and he was certainly not “proto-fascistic” as claimed by a comrade at the Fire Next Time blog. He supported feminism, gay and lesbian equality (both the right to get married and serve openly in the armed forces), denounced the ease with which he legally acquired silencers and other instruments of death, and had warm words for the likes of Chris Matthews, New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie, and future Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. None of this adds up to fascism, “proto” or otherwise.
Dorner’s politics, insofar as he has any, are decidedly mainstream. He is not a politico with an agenda to push but a regular guy who lost his career, his name, his everything for trying to do the right thing, the honorable thing, inside an organization that incentivizes criminality, dishonesty, and wanton abuse at every turn and at every level in the name of “law enforcement.”
Dorner’s story resonated with millions because it was not about left versus right but right versus wrong.
While Dorner is wholly responsible for his actions, it was the LAPD that chewed him up and spit him out, and they reaped the resulting whirlwind. Worse yet, Dorner’s extreme cynicism about the LAPD was vindicated when they nearly killed two women as they hunted him down. His actions and the renewed media scrutiny forced the LAPD to fire seven deputies who formed what amounts to a lawless gang of enforcers and re-open internal investigations. (Like the British Socialist Workers’ Party, the LAPD’s attempt to draw a line under their scandalous behavior has blown up in their faces.)
Criminals in Action: Jonathan Cuevas Gunned Down in Cold Blood by LAPD on Oct. 20, 2010
Dorner’s criminal behavior shone a spotlight on the LAPD’s criminal behavior and may trigger much-needed police reform. The fact that his individualist violence may lead to more policy changes than all the anti-police brutality marches of the past decade put together should serve as a wake-up call for progressives, both reformists (who mistakenly believe that the socioeconomic system is sound and just, and that tinkering is all that is necessary) and revolutionaries (who talk about overturning a social order they are too weak to wrest reforms from) that our methods are insufficient for the tasks at hand.
As John Halle noted in his article examining how grassroots organizing successfully stemmed the tide of attacks on academic freedom by local New York City politicians, “the left only becomes active in opposition to some particularly egregious capitulation.” Replace “capitulation” with “outrage” or “abuse,” and his point is equally valid with respect to police brutality, corruption, and criminality, which protests alone have done little to abate in Los Angeles. Successfully policing the police starts in the streets but must extend into the halls of government. Civilian review boards armed with subpoena power and radicals in city hall to purge police departments of criminals and promote honest bourgeois cops like Dorner before they go postal are long overdue.