For those familiar with the history of social protest, the police and Black people in these United States—and how a combination of the three has consistently had deadly consequences for Black people—the Oregon standoff gives us reason to pause and wonder.
Also known as Y’all Qaeda, “Yokel Haram” and “Vanilla ISIS,” the group of white militiamen has been holed up in a federal building on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The heavily armed white men seized the building on Saturday in protest of the imprisonment of two of their rancher compatriots for arson on federal land. The militia are railing against what they call a land grab by the federal government against ranchers in the West. The larger issue is that their form of protest, involving firepower and the threats to use it, have been met with nonchalance and a desire for peaceful resolution by law enforcement.
And we know that Black and Brown people would not have the same courtesy from the police; as if political protest—a less-armed conflict—is more peaceful when melanin is present. Even unarmed, peaceful protest resulted in wounded and dead Black protesters—and history bears this fact out. Chalk it up to white privilege and the notion that white skin will give you the benefit of the doubt.
The Harney County Sheriff’s Office held a meeting with the militia to seek a “peaceful” end to the nearly weeklong standoff, as ABC News reported. During the brief meeting, Sheriff David Ward shook hands with Ammon Bundy and nicely asked him to leave the land to respect the wishes of Harney County residents. A follow up meeting is expected to discuss a peaceful resolution.
Sheriff Ward asks Ammon Bundy to please leave and respect the wishes of Harney County residents.
— Harney Cty. Sheriff (@HarneyCoSheriff) January 7, 2016
— Beth Nakamura (@bethnakamura) January 7, 2016
This meeting is called for a peaceful resolution. Sheriff Ward is NOT there to make an arrest. He’s there to ask them to leave #HarneyCounty
— Harney Cty. Sheriff (@HarneyCoSheriff) January 7, 2016
Meanwhile, the Burns Paiute Tribal Council, a Native tribe that lives near the wildlife refuge, says they would have been dead by now if they protested in the manner of these militia members. As the Huffington Post reported, while the militia argues the federal land belongs to the white population in Oregon, Harney County was mostly Paiute land before the white man arrived.
“As a Native, if we were to go out there and fight back like they are, we would have been dead by now,” Carla Teeman, a tribal social services assistant, told Huffington Post. “They are desecrating one of our sacred traditional cultural properties,” said Charlotte Rodrique, the tribal chair. “They are endangering our children and the safety of our community.” The Paiute tribe says its way of life is being threatened, and it wants the white militias to leave, also noting that all of the lands have been stolen from Native peoples, a fact about which the militias have said nothing.
Certainly, as victims of state-sponsored violence, terrorism and genocide, Native Americans are far too aware of how the authorities would treat and have treated them. Certainly, kid gloves are reserved for white folks. Black people know this far too well.
While the sheriff in Oregon treats Y’all Qaeda delicately and with respect, like peaceful protesters should be treated, he insults the legacy of Black protest. Remember back in the days of the Civil Rights Movement, when Black demonstrators faced water hoses, billy clubs, four-legged police dogs and two-legged police dogs? When civil rights workers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, they were met with teargas and far more from a posse of sheriff’s deputies who doubled as the Ku Klux Klan. Mounted on horseback, complete with long leather whips, batons and electric cattle prods, the so-called law enforcement brutally beat the demonstrators and put many in the hospital. This became known as Bloody Sunday, a white supremacist response to a peaceful protest that itself was precipitated by a police killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a Black civil rights activist.
Further, the federal government, under J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, waged a war against the Black Panther Party, who sought to empower their communities through social programs and political education, monitor the police, and make use of the Second Amendment in the process. Police responded with assassinations, arrests and long prison sentences for Black Panther members, and a neutralization of the Black power organization as a unifying force for Black people.
In 1985 in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia police dropped an incendiary device on a rowhouse in a West Philadelphia neighborhood that was home to MOVE, a Black liberation organization. The second time the authorities had dropped a bomb on its own citizens in an example of state-sponsored terrorism—the first time being Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma—eleven people, including five children ages 7 to 13, were killed. The city medical examiner report found that six of the people who died had been shot. And in the end, 61 homes were burned to the ground. The police reportedly dropped four pounds of military-grade C-4 explosives provided by the FBI on the roof of the MOVE house, and unloaded 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the house.
Even today, peaceful #BlackLivesMatter protesters are regarded as thugs, criminals and cop killers, subjected to arrest and harsh treatment by police for simply wanting an end to police violence against Black bodies. This, as these Black activists face attacks and shootings from armed white supremacist terrorists who seek to kill them.
And yet, armed white militias are considered peaceful protesters and patriots.