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How U.S. handles unarmed Black dissent vs well-armed white dissent

25th January 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Askia Muhammad
Contributing Writer

(Special from The Final Call) — It may be the most egregious insult to the dozens of unarmed Black people murdered by police, in a year when 1,134 young Black men were killed by authorities. Dozens of heavily armed white vigilantes have illegally occupied a federal wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon; have promised to stay there indefinitely; and the response from the local sheriff and the FBI has been to do nothing to end the lawlessness, and to even inform the criminal gang members that they are free to come and go from the compound to get snacks.

The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon’s high desert country outside the town of Burns, Oregon, about 300 miles southeast of Portland was done by a group calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. Their standoff entered its second week at Final Call press time as the mother of the group’s leader asked supporters to send supplies, from a list of more than 80 items, including sleeping bags, wool socks, cigarettes, toiletries, food, coffee and “French Vanilla Creamer,” the Associated Press reported.

But law enforcement officials said the men are free to resupply on their own. “Right now, they are allowed to come and go as they want,” Bill Fugate, a spokesman for the Oregon State police told TPM, an online news service. “We are not monitoring their movements,” Mr. Fugate said.

Police arresting protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 20, 2014

Police arresting protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 20, 2014

The “kid gloves” treatment of these armed White men, is in stark contrast to the non-judicial punishment delivered by police to 12-year-old Tamir Rice, playing with a toy gun in Cleveland; to Walter Scott, who was shot eight times in the back as he ran away from South Carolina police officer Michael Slager; or to Laquan McDonald who was shot 16 times in Chicago as he ran from police with a legal pocket knife in his hand. Officer Slager has been charged with murder in the death of Mr. Scott.

The leaders of the occupation, Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan, have repeatedly rejected calls to leave buildings at the refuge, vowing death rather than surrendering to face imprisonment, despite pleas from the county sheriff, from many local residents and from Oregon’s governor, among others. Ammon Bundy has said the group will leave when there is a plan to transfer control of federal land to locals.

So far, the authorities have not moved in to remove Mr. Bundy’s group. Ammon Bundy is the son of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 armed standoff with the federal government in Nevada over his refusal to pay decades’ worth of fees for grazing his cattle on public land. Mr. Bundy and his allies in the so-called militia movement declared victory when federal authorities capitulated in the face of his armed standoff. Many observers suggest that the government’s fecklessness in the face of the Nevada armed standoff emboldened these criminals to again attempt to intimidate the government with another act of armed terror.

At least one separate group of armed White men—the Pacific Patriot Network—showed up in a convoy of about 18 vehicles, carrying rifles and handguns and dressed in military attire and bulletproof vests. They said they were there to help with security. They left hours later when they were told their help was not needed.

The contradiction in the level of force used against unarmed Black men versus that accorded to armed white militias, and in the uneven news media portrayal has not gone unnoticed. “Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, activists protesting the deaths of an unarmed 18-year-old on a city street or the tragic death of a 25-year-old in the back of a police van, have been referred to variously as ‘thugs,’ ‘criminals,’ and ‘drug users,’” Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), a U.S. Senate candidate, said in a statement. “To the contrary, most of these protests and protesters have been peaceful, and organizers have sought and obtained permission to peaceably assemble in exercise of their Constitutional rights.

But in Oregon, a group of armed men illegally occupying a federal building have been referred to as an ‘armed militia,’ or simply ‘occupiers,’ as though that behavior is acceptable in a nation of laws. What is happening in Oregon is not protest sanctioned by the Constitution, it is lawbreaking. These moments cry out for leadership—by political leaders, the media, and the public. It is time for those of us who value our Constitution to end that silence.

“One could not imagine a group of armed black men taking over an unoccupied federal building in one of our nation’s cities as they have in Oregon. It is time to tell that tough truth,” Rep. Edwards said.

Maybe Blacks in this country need to try wearing a cowboy hat because it works on the White guys. Put on a cowboy hat and you can get a ‘Stay Out of Jail Free Card.’ It’s outrageous,” Andy Kerr, a conservationist, and author of Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes and Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness told The Final Call. “This country has a love affair with the cowboy. And even these guys who aren’t cowboys—they’re arsonists, they occupy federal property illegally. They say only they can interpret the Constitution of the United States. It goes on and on, and right now they’re being tolerated, and it is outrageous.”

The pattern of conduct is really fairly common, according to Dr. James Pope, associate professor of Africana Studies at Winston- Salem State University. “When we’re looking social control, within race, what generally happens, those who have means within a race are given a pass. Those who are considered to be the dregs of society, whether you’re criminals, whether you’re poor, have to be controlled,” Dr. Pope told The Final Call.

“You take that and expand that to a people you dehumanize— such as people of African descent, or Africans—then it becomes a gross manifestation and we see it on many levels. When you talk about MOVE, and then we can actually look at Tulsa, Okla., back in the 1920, when they bombed … the horrific things that happened there. They were cutting pieces, they were selling souvenirs, pieces of Black people (their body parts) there. So this idea of control is a rampant aspect that is caught deeply in the cultural fabric of White America.”

The behavior, he says is “schizophrenic.” “When you talk about this Oregon issue, right? They’re talking about they’re taking back the land from the federal government, right? But then, who did the federal government take it from? That issue becomes very schizophrenic. The reason why most of us can’t understand this, but yet we see there is a familiarity with the differentiation and the disproportionate application of force by the police, when you look at it compared to people of color, it becomes a gross manifestation.”

Before this incident, Dr. Pope developed a course on “Blacks in Criminal Justice” which he taught at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has now expanded that course to look at “Race, Law and Order, and how those things intersect in the African world historically and contemporarily.”

Another glaring contradiction is that the disputed land, which the armed terrorists want the federal government to transfer to the ownership of local white ranchers, is still claimed by Native people, the original owners. While Charlotte Rodrique, the chair of the Burns Paiute Tribe and her people have not been battling the federal government over the rights to the land, which is now a wildlife refuge and sanctuary, they do take exception to the criminal behavior of the ranchers in question. Ms. Rodrique said they’re desecrating sacred lands, and she has a message for them: “get the hell out,” according to published reports.

On January 5, 1879, 500 Paiutes were forcefully loaded onto wagons and walked, under heavy armed guards from their land to the Yakama Reservation in Washington. They traveled 300 miles on that forced march, through knee-deep snow, shackled two-by-two, according to and other online sources.

“What the radicals in Oregon that are occupying the National Wildlife Refugee headquarters are saying is that this land belongs to Harney County and has always belonged to Harney County and that’s just not true,” Mr. Kerr said. “In some cases the United States has concluded treaties with Native American tribes. I’m not going to say that wasn’t under coercion and a lot of threat.

“Some of the land has been taken by the federal government by conquest, by treaty, and/or purchase,” Mr. Kerr continued. “These federal lands have always been federal lands as long as the United States has been around, and they don’t belong to the states.”

A final irony is that the two Oregon ranchers, whose conviction for arson on federal land ostensibly sparked the armed militia takeover, turned themselves in to a California prison three days after the standoff began. The militia members say the ranchers are going to jail for a crime they did not commit, but Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond, turned themselves in at Terminal Island in San Pedro, Calif., to serve their time, and asked the militiamen to surrender and go home, as did the local sheriff and dozens of local landowners.

Mr. Hammond and his son were convicted three years ago of setting fires in 2001 and 2006 on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, “on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The federal government manages most of the land in many Western states, including 53 percent of Oregon. White ranchers and others object to what they say are unfair rules, but environmentalists say mining, logging and ranching have been virtually unregulated for decades on public land and have left a legacy of pollution for taxpayers to clean up.

“The occupation of Malheur by armed, out-of-state militia groups puts one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk,” the Audubon Society of Portland said in a statement on the occupation.

“Those who call for federal public land (to be) given over to the states (or counties) are aiding those who want to privatize our federal land heritage to benefit corporate greed,” said Mr. Kerr. “Consider the history of western public lands. Most states sold any lands they received upon statehood as fast as they could to private interests, often fraudulently. In Oregon, a U.S. senator, John H. Mitchell, was sentenced to jail for such crimes.”

This article originally published in the January 25, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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