As we have now had several months to watch the Standing Rock protests unfold, as well as the criminal trials regarding the Occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, many have begun to make comparisons between the two. On this episode of the Puyallup Native Podcast, Cliff and Brandon focus in on what occurred with the Oregon standoff, how an armed group of militants were acquitted of all charges, and whether or not that was a fair verdict and if their race and the color of their skin had anything to do with it. Read my take here on this page, and then listen to the full discussion by downloading the show directly here.
For those who don’t know the story, there is a group of armed militants led by Ammon Bundy who hold a set of certain beliefs. Their primary belief, is that the various agencies operated by the federal government have no right to own or manage land. They believe that the vast majority of this land held by the federal government is constitutionally required to be turned over to the states in which they reside. Whether you agree with their assessment or not ( I don’t), I think it is clear that it is a strongly held belief. They believe it enough to stand up for their beliefs, just like at Standing Rock.
Sometimes protests are conducted for good reasons, sometimes for bad reasons, and in both good and bad ways. I will never fault someone for standing up for their beliefs, even if i vehemently disagree with them. As armed militants are want to do, they gathered all their guns and decided the right way to express their beliefs was by taking over the headquarters of a wildlife refuge. Police arrived, and here is where people begin comparing the operation with Standing Rock. there are however some key differences. In the allegations that police behaved with restraint at the wildlife refuge because those protesters were white, while treating Dakota Access protesters the way they have because they are red- that is, I believe, incorrect. At Standing Rock, it is the police who are militarized against peaceful protesters. Would the police behavior be in South Dakota be any different if the Native protesters were openly armed? In Oregon would the police have responded differently if the Bundy clan had left their weapons behind and come unarmed? The answer in both cases is an obvious yes, and to my mind the skin color of the protest is too easy an excuse.
Case in point, on January 26th while en route to a public meeting, Oregon State Police arrested several members of the Bundy Standoff group. Robert Finicum (a white man) resisted arrest and made a move which to the officer appeared to be threatening when he quickly reached toward his jacket pocket and was immediately shot and killed. The officer did not wait for Finicum’s hand to actually make it to that pocket, nor did he wait to see whether or not what he was going for was innocent. It could have been a cell phone, a wallet, or anything. As it turned out, it was a semi-automatic pistol, but that particular officer was within his rights regardless of what actually turned out to be in that pocket. It did not matter that he was white, it only mattered that he was resisting arrest and made a move he shouldn’t have made. I don’t know about you, but if I’m stopped by police – legitimately or not – the one thing I DON’T DO is reach quickly into one of my pockets, no matter what color I am. As I say in this podcast, I’m not so naive to believe that race has nothing to do with anything when it comes to the police, I’m just suggesting it might be as black and white (pun intended) as some folks make it out to be.
The Bundy clan claim to have been engaged in a peaceful protest, just as Standing Rock is. However, firearms and weapons openly displayed is never meant to be a show of peace. They are, and are intended to be, a statement which announces to the world that ‘I have the ability to kill you with very little effort’. I am myself a strong supporter of guns and the 2nd amendment, and when I go camping I carry a firearm on my person in order to effectively scare a wolf, cougar, or any other dangerous animal that might decide to accost me – something which has legitimately occurred in the course of a hike. When I walk into a convenience store with that gun on my side, hardly anyone notices. Would they notice if I entered the store with my pistol out of its holster and waving it about? I’m betting so, and I don’t think the police would buy my “but I never actually shot anything” argument either.
When protesters are armed, it changes things. If Standing Rock was armed, I’d still support them – but I don’t think I would support their decision to bring guns. I own several guns, and personally, I’d leave them at home. The Oregon protesters claim their demonstration was peaceful; it was anything but. In testimony, Ammon Bundy stated they brought the guns along because otherwise they would have been immediately carted off to jail – something which is pretty generally accepted as the consequence of civil disobedience. Bundy knew exactly what it meant to carry those guns. Guns bring the threat of violence. Guns mean intimidation. It is for this reason, not color, that police proceeded with caution in retaking the refuge.
When they were arrested, prosecutors charged them with a crime. Tresspassing? no. Destruction of property? Not even close. How about carrying a firearm into a restricted area? All are crimes, which were clearly and easily provable to any judge or jury. However, prosecution chose to charge 7 defendants on charges of “conspiracy to impede officers of the US”. And, because the weapons charges against them were tied to possessing firearms in the course of the conspiracy, they HAD TO BE CONVICTED OF THE CONSPIRACY CHARGES IN ORDER FOR THE GUN CHARGES TO STICK. Dumb. Federal officers behaved with restraint due to the potentially lethal situation. Federal prosecutors, however, were overzealous and resulted in a not guilty verdict, when they were actually INCREDIBLY guilty of a lower crime. The Bundy group certainly deserves to pay for the crimes which they committed, and thanks to terrible prosecutors, they now walk free. Justice was not done, and the result is not fair. I must argue that white privilege had little to do with it, and I therefore fail to see the direct comparison to the Standing Rock protesters.
What is happening at Standing Rock? Tragedy. There it is the police who should be charged with crimes in their horrendously overboard response to truly peaceful protesters defending their land and their cause.
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Cliff and Brandon are both registered members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and host the Tribal Podcast each and every week with all our past episodes available online. They talk about native issues in the news and anything of interest to Native Americans! Comment on this show via Facebook, or email us directly. We always love to hear from listeners to the show!