Apparently, America has a two-tier law enforcement system. At least it seems that way when you watch the standoff in Burns, Ore., between a self-described militia and the federal government. The militiamen, led by the sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who engaged in a similar standoff with federal agents in 2014, seized and occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, after a protest of 300 marchers in Burns over the conviction of two ranchers who were convicted of arson in October.
Even though at least one is armed, have seized federal property and say they are willing to die for their cause, the media is reluctant to label them as domestic terrorists. Webster’s Dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” The Oregon militia members pretty much fit the description.
The glaringly obvious legal system irony comes into play when it seems that White men are subject to a different set of rules than people of color. The actions of the Oregon militiamen are evident of that. No Black man, unless he was suicidal, would dream of occupying a federally-owned building and engaging in an armed standoff with the authorities.
When the people of Ferguson, Mo., hit the streets to protest police violence, they were met with law enforcement armed with military-grade hardware. The local police came out with riot gear, mine-resistant military trucks, snipers and assault rifles, all for a bunch of Black people chanting on the street corner. Really? The police’s show of force has been met with concern by politicians from both sides of the aisle, who have said they plan to scale back programs that allow police departments to purchase surplus military equipment.
Another example of how law enforcement is unevenly applied was seen last month in Akron, Ohio, when Daniel Kovacevic, a White man, almost caused an incident by parading up and down a predominately black neighborhood with a rifle strapped to his back. Ohio is an open carry state, so Kovacevic’s actions were legal. In fact when police responded to the scene, they spent more time trying to calm down Deone Slater, a Black business owner, who tried to confront Kovacevic. Slater said police arrived on the scene with their hands on their guns and tasers and said Kovacevic was not breaking the law.
Let’s flip the script here. How many black people would be crazy enough to walk through a wealthy predominantly white neighborhood in an open-carry state carrying a gun and not expect to be shot dead on the spot? There are YouTube videos of black men exercising their constitutional rights in open carry states and they are quickly confronted by armed police.
As an immigrant, I’ve quickly learned there are certain unwritten rules you have to follow as a Black man. One of those rules is be very careful dealing with the police. If you make a mistake, you might not survive it. I’ve learned not to drive through a wealthy, White neighborhood at night and always have your license and registration papers on you. When pulled over don’t make sudden moves and keep your hands on the steering wheel.
Recently, I’ve also learned that if you have a loved one who has a mental health crisis, don’t call the police. I’ve written too many stories about black families who have called the police to respond to a family member having a mental health episode only for the police to show up and shoot the person. And I also know better than to walk into a government building armed to the teeth and not expect a deadly response.
However, it’s not only law enforcement that seems to be reluctant to brand politically-motivated, violent White men as terrorists. Even the media seems to be approaching the situation with kid gloves. On Sunday, ABC News put out a tweet that described the Oregon militia men as “peaceful protesters.” I’m sorry, but if you show up to a protest with a gun, you can’t be described as peaceful.
Peaceful protest followed by Oregon wildlife refuge action: https://t.co/1KVABOa2tY
— ABC News (@ABC) January 3, 2016
Some Republican politicians also had the same problem when white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine black churchgoers last summer. Republican presidential candidates tripped over themselves to avoid calling him a terrorist. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested the shooting was an accident or motivated by drug use. However, Roof was pictured online brandishing guns, wearing a jacket with white supremacist logos and had a Confederate flag on his car.
This double standard is also seen in certain sections of the media’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Some right-wing media outlets have called BLM activists terrorists and compared them to the KKK. To my knowledge, BLM activists haven’t firebombed police officers homes or terrorized their families. They have a long way to go to draw comparisons to the KKK, America’s oldest domestic terrorist group.
The recent San Bernardino shooting and anti-Muslim rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have worked the country into a frenzy over fears of Muslim terrorism. People are terrified some brown person is going to come over here and launch another terrorist attack. But those people are looking in the wrong place. The terrorists are already here, and they’re White men.
Manny Otiko is a 20-year media veteran. He contributes articles on race, sports, entertainment, politics and media to FourFourTwo, the world’s biggest soccer magazine, the Atlanta Blackstar, Our Weekly and California Black Media. He blogs at www.mannyonthemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.