Scary Flashes of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in the LAPD's Manhunt for Chris Dorner
On Thursday, police hunting for Chris Dorner, a veteran and former LAPD officer who allegedly launched a killing spree on Sunday, opened fire on a blue pickup truck driving without its headlights in the early morning hours. Two short Latina women delivering newspapers – 71-year-old Emma Hernandez and her 47-year-old daughter, Margie Carranza – were hit in the hail of gunfire. Hernandez was shot twice in the back and is in intensive care as of this writing.
Chris Dorner, who is a large black man bearing no resemblance to the victims, was reportedly driving a blue pickup.
Nearby, officers also opened fire on a black pickup truck. Fortunately, the innocent driver wasn't hit in that shooting.
The first thought that came to my mind when I read about these incidents was that they reminded me of the accounts veterans returning from Iraq shared with me about what it was like manning check-points in Baghdad.
Our wars always come home to us. That's been notably apparent in recent weeks. First, Eddie Ray Routh, an Iraq vet who was suffering from PTSD allegedly gunned down famed American Sniper Chris Kyle. (Kyle was lauded as a hero despite writing that, “our ROEs [rules of engagement]... were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see.") Then, this week, Dorner allegedly went bonkers.
It's important not to demonize military vets as crazy and dangerous – that kind of stigma results in veterans who end up in the criminal justice system getting two more years in jail, on average, than non-veterans convicted of the same offense. But the reality is that we've seen a number of similar incidents in recent years: an Iraq war vet was accused of killing six people in Orange County last March; that same month, another killed his 11-year-old sister before turning his gun on himself; and another killed a park ranger in Washington last January.
Most people are at least somewhat aware of the struggles some veterans have readapting to normal society. But a question that's rarely asked is how the wars we've fought for over a decade may be affecting our domestic policing. Police departments provide a lot of jobs to former vets. According to GI Jobs.com, a Web site for veterans seeking civilian employment, 80 percent of the Dallas Police Department's hires over a two-year period were military vets; approximately 20 percent of LAPD officers have military backgrounds.
The image of the truck Hernandez and Carranza were driving brought to mind the terrifying accounts relayed to me in 2008, when I interviewed more than a dozen returning Iraq war vets, many of whom had served multiple tours. Several told me how the Rules of Engagement had shifted between their first and last tours; early on, they were told to fire only on people who posed an immediate threat – Iraqis carrying weapons. Later in the conflict, “force protection” became the overarching principle, and several soldiers told me they were ordered to open fire on Iraqis caught walking in the wrong area or carrying tools that might be used to bury a roadside bomb.
None of the vets I interviewed told me that they'd killed innocent civilians at checkpoints, but several said it was a relatively common occurance, and that it was a product not of monstrous soldiers run amok, but rather the nature of the beast in a war fought in densely populated urban environs: a car approaches, the occupants don't understand a soldier's hand-signals or don't respond quickly enough, and a horrible tragedy ensues.