There appears to be some sort of cultural disconnect between the plight of the many African Americans who have been gunned down by police on our inner city streets in recent years, and the complaints of a few white people who want the government to stop encroaching on their lands in Oregon. However, the commonalities run deeper than some might want to admit, and although these occurrences may seem completely disconnected, there is at least one common thread that we should all take note of. That being the concern of both urban blacks and rural whites that our government has overstepped its reach into our lives.
For a group of caucasian ranchers living in the country, it is understandably quite disconcerting when some of your people are sentenced to a few years in federal prison for causing some fires on U.S. government property. It may seem quite unjust, especially when your lands are adjacent to federal properties, and sometimes fighting fire with fire is the only way to preserve one’s livelihood. But it’s hardly a day and night struggle to avoid contact with police, for fear of being profiled, harassed, detained, or arrested for simply “looking suspicious” or “fitting a perpetrator description.”
Now let us apply a similar scenario to an urban black man, whose only means of survival is often times attained by hustling on the streets. Here, there is no opportunity to take up arms and seize a remote wildlife refuge in order to take a stance against tyranny. The only organization on the streets occurs when disparate and disenfranchised youth gather together in gangs in order to compensate for the lack of cohesiveness and community they experience daily. These folks are probably more concerned with the violence and poverty they see all around them every day than they are with totalitarianism, property rights, martial law, and other right wing conspiracy theories.
Though there are some stark differences between the sudden and temporary occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Princeton, Oregon and the continual involuntary entrapment of impoverished populations within cities like Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio that many African Americans experience, the struggle with the powerful and the elite is very much the same. One main difference though is the response of those in authority and the cultural critique of everyday citizens. One very critical difference between the local level law enforcement’s reaction to the threat posed by a young black man, and that of federal agents dealing with a so-called militia, is the promptness and lethality of the response involved.
When “suspicious” young men are pulled over while driving or stopped when walking around our city streets, the likelihood that their contact with law enforcement will escalate is really quite high. This is partly just probability and statistics, as the more heavily populated an area is, the more likely there will be issues with crime. Obviously, police must be vigilant when looking for potential problems, patrolling neighborhoods, and seeking out suspects. However, there are ways in which we, as a society, have perpetuated stereotypes by making racially-based judgments that color our expectations of others. And even trained police officers aren’t immune to this “implicit bias,” which is explained in an article titled Why police so often see unarmed black men as threats on Vox.com:
“Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and California State University Northridge in May reviewed a decade of empirical evidence about cops and implicit bias. They found police officers seem to possess implicit bias that might make them more likely to shoot black suspects than white ones. But this bias may be partly controlled through proper training, and police officers appear to perform better — meaning they show less implicit bias — than participants from the general public.”
While the group of militants in Oregon that besieged a building at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were armed and considered quite dangerous, the responding authorities that were called to the scene didn’t over react or immediately attack the occupiers of the building. No doubt this is partly because the FBI didn’t want to create the same kind of mess that occurred in Waco, Texas many years ago. Though several media sources have questioned the response, expressing the sentiment that this article published in the Guardian has been titled with: If the Oregon militiamen were Muslim or black, they’d probably be dead by now.
This really is a fair assessment of the situation, when our society has become so paranoid about Muslim extremists and terrorism, and our police forces continuously brutalize and murder young black men in various cities all around the country. The way the whole event that’s taken place in Oregon has been portrayed in the media and responded to by the general populace, it seems as the though the actions of a few white militants, or militia members (depending on the source), are more tolerable, or even justified. And instead of considering these people to be terrorists, they are given time and space to stage their armed protest. Indeed, if this group of militants were a group of Muslims or African Americans, they would have not been allowed even a day to occupy a government building.