Dorner, Kelly and the outlaw archetype

Both murderers, yet one is deserving of his hero heritage, and one is not

Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly

In the wake of the tragic rampage and death of ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner in California, social networks erupted with conspiracy theories, and cries that Dorner was a hero and a martyr who died trying to clear his name.

Many people have drawn comparisons between Dorner and Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, who also died after a firefight with police, back in 1880.

While there are similarities between the sequence of events for Dorner and Kelly, the men themselves were very different.

Ned Kelly was born into a poor farming family in the Australian bush in 1854. The colony was a rough place to live for the poor; after Ned’s father died in 1866 he and his brothers resorted to petty thief.

In 1878, a police officer came to arrest Ned’s brother Dan for such a theft. Ned was 400 kilometres away at the time. The officer made a drunken pass at Ned’s sister, and Dan wrestled him away. In the kerfuffle, the officer sustained a cut on his wrist. He went back to headquarters and claimed Ned Kelly had shot him, and a reward was put out for Kelly’s arrest.

So did Ned Kelly become an outlaw. For two years, he hid in the bush, evading capture by the police who hunted him. On one occasion, they tried to trap Ned and his brother Dan, who was in exile with him, but they escaped and killed the police officers to stop them giving chase.

To sustain themselves, Ned and his gang carried out robberies — which were really more like communities hiding the outlaws and giving them supplies.

The gang were finally surrounded in a hotel in Glenrowan. Police began to fire, even as women and children tried to flee. Ned Kelly escaped the hotel, but his brother and friends did not, so he tried to go back for them. As he walked into the fray, clad in homemade armour, he was shot in the knee, captured, and subsequently hung in 1880 after a one-day trial.

Last week, Christopher Dorner published a 6,000 page manuscript to Facebook threatening to begin a killing spree to clear his name. He lost his job with the LAPD in 2008 after he claimed he saw one of his superiors beat a suspect. Those claims were disproven, but Dorner felt he was right.

On February 3, he killed the daughter of his attorney in that case, and her fiance. He ambushed and killed a police officer on February 7.

When Dorner was finally surrounded by police on February 12 in a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, he began shooting at local police and LAPD, who returned fire. When the shootout was done, a sheriff’s deputy was dead, and a body thought to be Dorner’s was found in the burnt out cabin.

Both Dorner and Ned Kelly were murderers, and no motive can justify taking another life. Every person killed, whether police officer or civilian, is loved and mourned by their families. Every victim was robbed of the happy years ahead of them.

Regardless of his motive, Ned Kelly killed police officers, and no amount of proselytizing and advocating for poor people’s rights will make up for that.

Violence can never be excused, especially violence against those sworn to protect us.

But there are some important differences between the two outlaws.

Christopher Dorner believed vindicating himself was more important than innocent human lives. He killed the families of people he hated; he killed police officers not associated with the perceived wrongs done against him.

Ned Kelly, on the other hand, shot out only when protecting himself and his family. In the robberies leading up to his capture, he did not lay a hand on a civilian.

His manifesto, unlike Dorner’s, calls out the injustices against an entire population, not just the injustices against him. Instead of calling for the death of those he hated, he asked those people to make amends for the wrongs he felt they had done by giving some of their fortune to “the widows and orphans fund.”

Dorner was an African American in Los Angeles, and the LAPD has a troubled history with African Americans — that much is true.

But while Dorner’s manifesto tells of racism against him during his time with the LAPD, he does not purport to stand for African Americans.

His motive was purely to bring revenge for his dismissal from the LAPD.

He vowed to launch a killing spree as payback to the police force, and then he carried it out. When it was over, four people were dead and another four injured.

Dorner had clearly gone over the edge. He was not well and he needed help. He was heartless. He was no different to Adam Lanza or James Holmes or Jared Loughner.

Christopher Dorner may have been an outlaw, but he was no Ned Kelly.