It’s time to Break It Down!
On January 23, 2007 the Rapper Mims released a track, MIMS – This Is Why I’m Hot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwyE3WJ4AWo). It’s a catchy tune that detailed and contrasted why the artist was hot, with why some other, more hyped performers were not. Hot in this context means cool, relevant, or “what’s happening now.”
As it relates to the title above, “Hot” means angry, perturbed, and vehement. To that end it is critical, in my view, to elevate and discuss the actions of the self-labeled militiamen (that is citizens carrying firearms, to be clear) who came to Oregon, and who have broken into and taken control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility near Burns, Oregon.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have received reports that an unknown number of individuals broke into the facility over the weekend. In their reporting the Wildlife Service and BLM (not to be confused with Black Lives Matter; ironic though) noted while the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety. The agencies confirmed that no federal staff members were in the building at the time of the initial incident. Authorities pledged to continue monitoring the situation for additional developments.
The aforementioned irony in the usage of the acronym BLM revolves around the contentious & suspicious way in which the Black Lives Matter movement has been discussed by numerous media outlets. It is fair to say there is an uproar stemming from some corners anytime the group is mentioned. Much of that ado has to do with the arms’ length nature in which BLM deals with black-on-black violence. Yet, BLM does not promote arming African Americans; rather it promotes sacred nature and value proposition of black and brown lives, which too often are prematurely ended by gun violence perpetrated by operatives of the state, most often police officers. It must also be noted, that many of these victims are unarmed.
At the Wildlife Refuge, the occupying “militiamen” were heavily armed, and boldly asserted that they will be staying as long as it takes to achieve their objective. Moreover, they added that while they do not intend to use violence, (they are armed and) they would defend themselves. The leaders of this so-called militia come from a family familiar with takeovers and standoffs with the government. Ammon and Ryan Bundy are the sons of Cliven Bundy, who led the 2014 standoff with government officials in Nevada in 2014 over his cattle’s grazing access. That conflict included firearms as well.
So the questions that troubles many African Americans about this situation is why are these men not characterized as terrorists? Why are media and officials not bandying about words such as insurrection, revolt, or anti-government insurgents?
Considering this is a group of unknown size and undefined firepower that has taken over a federal building with plans and quite possibly supporting equipment to facilitate a years-long occupation – and when the group’s representative articulates that they would prefer to avoid violence but…are prepared to die – the notion that officials are choosing to employ such nuanced language is, for lack of better phrasing, astoundingly enlightening. After all, given the apparent nationwide trend of law enforcement officers fearing for their lives, even when the black suspects they happen to be dealing with are unarmed, and their being forced, as a result, to escalate the response continuum to maximum deadly force, this fearless, convivial mode of associating with the Bundy’s armed alliance is perplexing, at the very least.
It is virtually unfathomable that none of the major media outlets, or any of the local officials has opted to use the words insurrection or revolt. If for instance, a group of black Americans took possession of a federal or state courthouse to protest the police, what are the odds such a sober, balanced, and unemotional tone would carry the day? Black Americans outraged about the death of Tamir Rice at the hands of police or concerned about the absence of a conviction in the George Zimmerman case have been frequently and inaccurately lumped in with criminals and looters, described as “thugs,” or marauding wolf packs where drugs are obviously in use, according to one national cable anchor.
Suppose a group of armed Muslims took possession of a federal building to protest calls to surveil the entire group? Would they not be likely to endure even harsher consequences and repercussions?
Yes, it is appropriate to note that there have been no reports of violence, injury, or anyone being held inside of the facility against their will. Yet. Some experts are theorizing that the strategy federal and local officials are using is one designed to let the media storm die before taking action. This ostensibly will permit some of the intensity around the issue to recede, and for calmer heads to prevail. I’m willing to wager that Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, and Jonathan Ferrell, just to name a handful, would all have appreciated such a state sponsored decompression period before their fateful encounters with authority became fatal.
I can appreciate the need to avoid inflaming the situation through the use of irresponsible language. That sort of judiciousness is appropriate always. Still, it is equally justifiable to remember the event that led to this takeover. A number of folks reacted to the decision to charge a father and son rancher duo, Dwight Hammond, Jr., and son Steven Hammond with arson under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The charge, for which they both were convicted, carries a 5-year jail term. I reiterate they were convicted!
Acquaintances of the Hammonds may very well disagree with the government’s decision to charge and prosecute the pair, accordingly. But what of the outrage that inures from black Americans being far more likely than whites to face serious charges and jail time rather than misdemeanor penalties for resisting arrest? Where has the lock-step adherence to careful and delicate language been during all of 2015 when unarmed black Americans were disproportionately more likely to be killed by police officers than others?
But let us also note, in addition to the apparent incongruity prominently displayed in this situation, the Hammonds are not numbered among the Bundy’s armed alliance. Both Hammond men have surrendered to authorities so that they may serve the balance of their 5-year terms. Ammon Bundy, one of Cliven son’s, and the occupation organizer, has repeated two themes. The occupiers are armed and prepared to die, and they anticipate holding the facility indefinitely.
The precisely limited and incredibly soft language choices of media and governmental officials seem to extend beyond simply deliberate phrasing. The characterization of the events in Oregon reflect the business as usual shape of our collective assumptions about the relationship between race and guilt – or religion and violent extremism – in the United States.
If one is white, his activities and ideas are thought to stem from a font of principled and committed individuals. Because this is deemed the baseline presumption, group suspicion and presumed guilt are readily perceived and described as unjust, unreasonable and unethical. I’m sure you have noted, the occupiers in Oregon are assuredly all or nearly all white. Yet, that has scarcely been mentioned in media reports. You may also have noted that nothing close to similar can be said about coverage of events in Missouri, Maryland, New York, Illinois, Ohio, or any other place where questions about policing have devolved into protests or riots.
In Charleston, there was extended debate about whether to indicate that shooter Dylann Roof’s racially motivate shooting spree was an act of terrorism or even violent racism?
In San Bernardino, a number of news organizations rapidly hinted at and then began using the term Islamic extremism to describe the mass shooting in that city. It appeared almost reflexive.
The sometimes coded but increasing overt ways that some Americans are presumed guilty and violence-prone while others are presumed to be principled and peaceable unless and until provoked – even when armed – is remarkable. That is the story of…”The Oregon Standoff: This Is Why We’re Hot!”
I’m done; holla back!
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This did not end well for the militiamen.
The irony of BLM acronyms is one of the most interesting in this saga.
Agreed, the BLM made me smile. I noticed right away, but the media seemed to have totally slept that.