By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
The recent group of protesters arrived in an old Oregon lumber town gathered ostensibly to support a 73-year-old rancher and his son who had been sentenced to prison for setting fires that spread to federal lands.
At the outset, they claimed theirs’ was a peaceful demonstration. But after singing, “Amazing Grace” and passing around a few hugs, a small group carrying weapons declared outside a supermarket that it was taking a stand and asked who wanted to join.
That was the start of the latest confrontation in a struggle that spans decades pitting federal officials and local landowners and ranchers debating who should control the Western range.
The armed anti-government group proceeded to seize empty administrative buildings on a federal refuge for wildlife and by nightfall, a contingent of dissidents had settled in for what they vowed to be an indefinite standoff with the government.
The first thing to note is the dignity accorded these individuals, who happened to be white, in response to their criminal behavior. There were no tanks. No armored law enforcement. There were no tasers, no tear gas, no mace. There was virtually no aggression from local or federal officers.
Most disturbing for a proponent of equal justice under the law was the language spoken by law enforcement, federal officials and the media. These people were not thugs. Not even trespassers. There was no criminal reference used to identify them at all. Instead, everyone involved coined the expression “occupiers” the rebels.
Their illegal act of seizing federal property, refusing to respond to orders to abandon their takeover, carrying weapons which any reasonable person would have to assume would be used to fire back if fired upon, all of this unspeakable insurrection and disrespect for authority, was simply reduced to the innocuous term – occupation.
An Army veteran who assumed leadership in this militia, Ryan Payne, told authorities, “We will be here for as long as it takes. People have talked about returning land to the people for a long time. Finally, someone is making an effort in that direction.” They already talked of a new name for the refuge – the Harney County Liberty Center.
In the minds of Black folks, it provided horrifying contrast to a big cop wrestling a 16-year-old girl at a residential splash party, slinging a school girl from her desk in the classroom for not putting away her cell phone, forcing a woman later to be found dead in a jail cell from her car for a minor traffic charge, choking a brother to death for selling single cigarettes, or shooting a 12-year-old dead who was brandishing a TOY gun.
Why was the aggression of law enforcement rationalized so often over the past two years as justified brute force when applied to unarmed Black Americans in confrontations with the law? Only a fool could argue against the clear existence of a different set of rules when it comes to people of color.
The takeover of the federal property was allowed for 41 days before being brought to an end with the arrest of four and the death of one of the insurgents who decided to go out in a blaze of gunfire rather than be apprehended. The bottom line is, there was no rush, no anxiety, no over-reaction. Everyone put a premium on life and conciliation.
What a foreign notion for Blacks.
Let me up sum up this insidious hypocrisy with the thoughtful articulation of Juliett Kayyen, CNN National Security Analysts who said:
“Let’s begin with what to call the Oregon anti-government protesters who have taken over a federal building. The men, heavily armed, urging others to come support their cause, and claiming somehow that, while peaceful, they will “defend” themselves whatever it takes, are — by any definition — domestic terrorists.
It does not matter that they insist they are peaceful or some sort of lawful militia; I can claim I’m 26 years old and a size 2 and that still doesn’t make it true. This group of men is wielding terror, and the threat of violence, as if it were their constitutional right.
So, let’s stop with the wrenching discussions of who they are.
They are dangerous, they are unforgiving, they are flouting federal law, they have a political purpose and they clearly are willing to use violence to get their way. Simply because they are not Muslim jihadists does not mean they are authorized to threaten or use violence to support their political cause.”
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City.
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