Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Christopher Dorner: Stop Treating America's Manhunts Like Movies


The vengeful saga of ex-LAPD police officer Christopher Dorner swept up the United States fixated on live media during an intense manhunt that ended in a cabin in the mountains lit up with flames. News outlets described the conclusion to Dorner's chase as a proverbial blaze of glory. The actual manifesto written by Dorner, a 6-page document chronicling a spread of topics from racism to corruption that plagued the LAPD to celebrity mentions and a call to all journalists to research him — to understand where his madness was coming from.

CNN panelist Marc Lamont in the aftermath of Dorner’s death took on an interpretation of Dorner that partially explained the room of sympathy that arose from his situation.

“They are rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It’s almost like watching Django Unchained in real life. It’s kind of exciting,” Lamont said.

A pop culture reference. The use of the word “exciting.” We live in a technologically advanced era where the likes of a manhunt can be followed in real time. While undoubtedly imbued with benefits, this ability also adds a dimension of sensationalism that media platforms feed into more often than not. It’s a type of sensationalism that those playing the role as viewer desire to see. It’s not so much that want to see violence or take pleasure in the suffering of others, but rather, we are drawn to the superhero narrative of the situation. Everyone loves a good vs. bad story, wanting for the good side to prevail at the end of the day. Just look at the recent influx and popularity of superhero movies in the box office — The Avengers alone took the spot of third highest grossing film of all time.

The Dorner hunt ended in February. Who would have predicted that months later, the nation would be swept away once again by the fear and imagination of another manhunt? Instead of gunshots, the Boston Marathon began with bombs, and instead of fire, one of two suspects was killed in the midst of capture while the other is now in police custody after the length of an entire day that brought the city of Boston and surrounding areas to a standstill.

Chilling images that saturated homes and social media alike were easily comparable to that of a war zone in any foreign land. Initial panic and speculation set in hours after the second bomb went off — leading to questions, some more unnecessary than others. Was the fire at the John F. Kennedy library related? Was it an act of terrorism? Were the perpetrators in a group or was this the handiwork of a lone psycho? Are they Muslim?

Dark-skinned” or white?

Who did it?

News stations attempted to feed into the gnawing curiosity of its viewers for knowledge, but there were only so many times one could replay a video or have a reporter stand in front of a crime scene talking in circles for hours on end. As many critics came to know, in the rush to update viewers with the juiciest scoop, vital errors were made, went viral, and backpedaled.

But even in our need to cling to the chase, to see a hero overcome difficulty, it appears that we also prefer our villains to be a bit malleable. 

Fast forward to today.

Suspect number two, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in police custody, though in a weakened state that has put pause on his questioning and investigation. His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 is deceased. Dzhokhar’s narrative in the media started to see a shift as more and more of those close to him described him as a normal American college student who liked to party. Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of the brothers, tipped the narrative over when he suggested that Dzhokhar might have been under the bad influence of Tamerlan. Now there is an air of sympathy to Boston’s “villain” that as pointed out by fellow PolicyMic writer and editor Laura Donovan, is grossly inappropriate.

While the moral gray zone and having a soft heart for the bad guy is acceptable in a Hollywood sense, it’s a different ballpark entirely when three lives have been compromised with more than one hundred are at risk. It’s different when there’s been a series of shootings on police officers and their families. Just because we have the means of viewing these situations a la movie style, doesn’t mean that we should think of them as high-speed thrillers to sate our appetites for action.

If Dorner was the appetizer, and the Tsarnaev brothers the main course, I should hope that America should never have to face the end-all dessert.