Lisa Dorn and Debra White first heard the news from a family friend: Their father’s widow, Ann Dorn, would be speaking at the Republican National Convention.
The news was not entirely surprising, said Lisa, who like Debra, is David’s daughter from an earlier marriage. Conservatives seized on their father’s story as soon as he died in early June, citing Dorn as a prime example of the “lawlessness” spreading through American cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death. A retired St. Louis police captain, David, who was Black, had been called in to protect a local pawnshop during the protests. He was shot by someone looting the store.
Ann, a police sergeant who supports President Trump, immediately embraced the conservative narrative around her husband’s death, said Lisa, calling a news conference after the funeral to urge her community to “do better,” referring to the man who killed David as “an opportunist who had no regard for human life or the law.” Ann, who is White, spoke with Trump after David died, Debra said, eventually accepting an invitation to the White House.
When Lisa learned that Ann would appear at the Republican convention, she urged her to reconsider.
“I’m asking you to please not make a political issue out of Dad’s death,” she wrote in text messages provided to The Lily. “I’m sure he would not approve, especially as a registered Democrat.”
Two weeks later, Ann spoke at the Republican convention. In an emotional five-minute speech on the final night of the convention, she recounted the night David died before denouncing “violence and destruction” as illegitimate forms of protest. She ended by throwing her support behind Trump, who she said would “restore order in our communities.” It was a powerful moment, likely to resonate with the White suburban moderates who say they are concerned with violent protests they’ve seen in nearby cities.
“In a time when police departments are short on resources and manpower, we need that help,” Ann said. “We should accept that help.”
Lisa and Debra watched the speech together from Debra’s St. Louis living room, sitting silently on the couch until Ann was finished speaking.
“Wow,” Lisa remembers herself saying. “I can’t believe she went through with this.”
Debra couldn’t believe it, either.
“When my dad took off his uniform, he was a Black man. And as a Black man he experienced many of the prejudices that Black people experience today in our country,” said Debra. “That was the part that Ann could not understand.”
Ann claims her involvement in the Republican convention “had nothing to do with politics,” she wrote in a statement to The Lily. “It's about ending the senseless violence that took his life and the lives of so many other innocent people and children in our community. My message is about love, respect and unifying our communities to bring Peace.”
David and Ann were married for 13 years and never agreed on politics, Debra said: The couple tried to avoid the subject altogether. David did not vote for Trump in 2016 and told his daughters that he did not plan to vote for him in 2020. He would often talk with his daughters about the “racist things Trump would do,” said Lisa. He hated the president’s policy on family separation, she said — and the derogatory comments he repeatedly made about former NFL player and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, who famously knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
“She knew how he felt about Trump’s treatment of Black and brown people,” said Debra. “So for her to use his death to further Trump’s agenda — it was just astounding to me.”
It was “despicable” for Ann to disregard David’s deeply held beliefs, said Lisa.
On issues of police brutality, Debra said, David believed that there are “good cops and bad cops,” just like there are “good people and bad people.” Ann would remind him that he was a police officer, she said, and Trump supports police officers.
“It was one of the things they would get into it about,” said Debra. “He would say, ‘Yes, but I don’t agree with the way he supports them.’” David wanted the Trump administration to push for more consequences for “bad cops,” Debra said, removing them from the force when necessary.
Ann often says she is using David’s story to promote “peace,” Lisa said. Whenever Ann uses that word, Lisa says she asks herself, “peace for whom?”
“Because [Trump] is not a president for all people. He is promoting peace only for some.”
It’s been hard to properly grieve for her father, said Lisa. As long as his story appears on political platforms, used to promote an agenda he fiercely opposed, he cannot fully “rest in peace,” she says.
Lisa and Debra first learned of their father’s death when they each got a call from the police station at 4 a.m. These days, they say, they both often inadvertently wake up around that time. They’ll talk to their dad in the middle of the night.
The sisters both “lost a best friend” when their dad died, they said. They all lived nearby, seeing each other frequently and talking on the phone most days. When Lisa went out of town for work, her dad would insist that she call him as soon as she got home. Debra, who lived a few blocks away from her dad, would often cook him fried chicken legs for dinner. As soon as she turned off the stove, she said, she’d spoon some food into a Tupperware container and hop in her car.
He always had an empty Tupperware to return, she said.
Neither Lisa nor Debra has spoken to Ann since the text message exchange two weeks before the convention. Debra left a voicemail, asking her to change her mind, but she never heard back.
Now that the convention is over, Debra says, she hopes all this will die down. But she has a feeling it won’t.
Ann’s speech was powerful, the sisters agree. It was an emotional appeal from a woman who just lost her husband, Lisa said, telling Americans that this president will fix all their problems.
“How could that not resonate?”