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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Dorner, Awlaki And The Threat To Due Process

Matt Pressberg |
February 12, 2013 | 2:23 a.m. PST


Executing Christopher Dorner without giving him the opportunity to surrender would violate the Constitution. (pepsiline/Flickr)
Executing Christopher Dorner without giving him the opportunity to surrender would violate the Constitution. (pepsiline/Flickr)
In less than 24 hours President Obama will tell us that the state of our Union is strong. This last week should remind us that the state of due process has rarely been weaker.

Due process, or the simple requirement that the government obey the rule of law and allow a trial by peers of the accused when it desires to kill, lock up or seize assets from a citizen, is not only a bedrock constitutional principle (Fifth Amendment) in this country, but one of the key underpinnings of freedom period. If government agents can simply be the executioner and disregard judge and jury, individual rights effectively don’t exist.

This fundamental right predates the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. itself. It goes all the way back to the Magna Carta. Thirteenth century Englishmen demanded more respect from their hereditary king than we do from our democratically elected president.

Last Thursday on Capitol Hill, future CIA Director and current Obama counterterrorism advisor John Brennan left open the question on whether the president could order the assassination of an American citizen inside the United States. The White House has, of course, already been doing that outside the country, taking out New Mexico-born Internet tough guy Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son without much pushback from inside or outside the Beltway. Also, Bradley Manning remains in military jail.

Earlier that day in unremarkably upper-middle-class Torrance, with the entire city on high alert as an alleged murderer, Chris Dorner, was on the loose and explicitly targeting police officers and their families, two newspaper deliverywomen on their morning route suddenly came under fire from at least seven officers, according to the L.A. Times. Dorner was suspected to be in a dark gray Nissan pickup truck with a roof rack. The women were in an aqua blue truck with no rack. A surfer driving a truck on a neighboring street was also shot at in a separate incident.

As an American citizen accused of a crime, Chris Dorner has his Fifth Amendment rights. The facts on the ground don’t make it seem as if LAPD was all too interested in respecting them. As the attorney for the two delivery women, Glen T. Jonas, said, “it certainly looked like they had a different goal in mind than surrender.” A L.A. Times photo of the truck seems to back that up.

Alleged is not just a term journalists need to use to avoid the ire of a cautious editor. It’s part of civilized-world jurisprudence. But now it seems like Americans have little use for alleged criminals who need to be brought to justice. Their attention is on terrorist madmen who must be stopped before they murder our children, and if innocent people get killed in the process—well, it’s a dangerous world and we can’t take chances.

Chris Dorner is an ex-cop and Navy lieutenant with serious weapons expertise who believes he was sold down the river by the LAPD and is back to take vengeance on those he feels wronged him. He is a dangerous guy with nothing to lose and it’s not unfair to call him a domestic terrorist, as LAPD Chief Charlie Beck did. However, just because he’s a terrorist, it doesn’t mean he can be summarily executed, whether he’s in Yucaipa or Yemen.

The media bears some responsibility for our tolerance of Big Armed Brother. Scary stories get eyeballs, and when the news oversamples these rare events, people think the world is a much more frightening place than it really is and are more willing to submit to invasions of their privacy to calm their intentionally stoked fears. To paraphrase one of the people behind the Constitution, people willing to give up liberty for the feeling of security deserve the TSA. They also get two working women who are lucky to be alive and a dead teenager in Yemen who “should have had a far more responsible father” according to former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, channeling Kim Jong Il.

Even if Dorner isn’t lying and really did get the shaft (and credit to Beck for reopening the inquiry into his firing—even if it is mostly a ploy, it’s not a completely hollow gesture), there are much better ways to cope with getting screwed by LAPD cover-your-ass bureaucracy than to murder innocent people and innocent family members of possibly guilty people. The LAPD needs to realize that 25 rounds through a newspaper delivery truck with two women in it isn't an “oops” moment; it's the kind of thing that makes people wonder who the police are really there to serve—and more importantly, who they want to protect.

The only protection we have against them, and anyone else in our own government is our Constitution. A Chris Dorner armed to the teeth and seeking revenge is scary right now. A Chris Dorner killed in the absence of a firefight, and a ho-hum reaction from a public glad that a “madman” is off the streets, is even scarier. We should hold our elected officials to the same standards as King John.

Read more of Neon Tommy’s coverage of Christopher Dorner here.

Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.



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