Crazy times we find ourselves in. We’re about to experience the most contentious election in modern history. Instances of racism, violence and bigotry are all around us—like we’ve gone back in time. Even rhetoric spewed by a presidential candidate has been viewed by some legal analysts as crossing the line (in a speech, Trump warned that second amendment advocates would know how to ‘deal’ with Clinton.)
Police killings and racial profiling is seemingly at an all time high (a black man is killed by police every 28 hours). The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is happening for a reason.
Things are not equal for all in our country right now. They never have been. And nothing drove that sentiment home for me more than two pieces of news this week: first, a jury let seven white terrorists off with essentially zero charges, after they armed themselves heavily and took over a federal building on Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge last winter. Then there’s the utter savagery with which the authorities handled protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline this week that would run through Standing Rock Sioux land. Let’s take a look and see just how equal and just the handling of these two instances was by law enforcement and government agencies.
1. In January, a group of white men took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge armed to the teeth–automatically qualifying as domestic terrorists. At the time, they were quoted as saying they were ready to “kill or be killed,” during the occupation. The oversimplified version of these domestic terrorist’s argument is this: certain ranchers don’t want to pay the Federal government for water and land use after, mind you, they drive cattle and livestock all over public property, often decimating stream beds and riparian areas while paying very little as it is. This group was led by a far-right, wannabe cowboy named Ammon Bundy, protesting the imprisonment of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven after they were found to have burned Federal land (essentially to cover up deer poaching). And it wasn’t the first time the father and son had been caught.
2. For nearly two years and with little media hype, North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux (who actually have ancestral blood lines to the land), have protested the proposed Dakota Pipeline and its potential dangers: which include poisoning the water of an entire people. Since August, 411 unarmed protesters have been arrested, most of which were on foot or horseback. Then things came to a head last week during the organized opposition––a practice that is as American as it gets and one that Sioux elders have called a “peaceful and prayerful demonstration.” One hundred and forty demonstrators were arrested with tribal leaders complaining of extremely rough treatment that was entirely unwarranted as a line of riot police forced its way through the crowd, shooting rubber bullets, pepper spray, concussion cannons and, as one reporter relayed, allowing trained dogs to charge unarmed protesters.
“It was early on in the occupation at the Oregon wildlife refuge and everyone was optimistic. I made contact with some of the members of the Pacific Patriots Network outside the refuge and explained that I wanted to do something in depth rather than the daily press conferences: I wanted an intimate look at what the occupation really was. Early that evening I got the phone call – if I wanted to go in, I had to go in now. Militia leader Ammon Bundy allowed me to document things as they were – he made no effort to conceal anything. We had open dialogue and conversation throughout the night. One of the first questions I asked was: Why did you do it? You are facing a possible federal sentence now. He responded that he wholeheartedly believed in the cause and that it was an overreach of power by the federal government.” – @JimUrquhartpics #Oregon #AmmonBundy #ReutersBehindTheLens #ReutersPhotos #Reuters
3. In Oregon, seven men who took over a federal building using weapons (costing the government $4 million) were let off by a jury. How does something like his happen? Good question. The armed terrorists were allowed to stay on Federal property for more than 40 days while law enforcement waited them out and townspeople visibly asked them to leave with protest signs of their own stapled to power poles and mailboxes in nearby Burns, Oregon. At the end of the occupation, LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed during a traffic stop when he reached for his weapon after repeatedly being told not to. According to some reports, the federal prosecution team may have been overconfident and clearly failed to prove the charge, conspiracy, occurred (charges along the lines of attempted murder and endangerment might have been more appropriate). The ruling sets a horrible precedent: game wardens, fish and wildlife managers or anyone else working for a government sector might be viewed as open season by any crazy lunatic carrying dad’s shotgun (or a semi-automatic weapon). Only yesterday, Bundy pledged to keep fighting the government in a similar manner.
4. What were the seven terrorists in Oregon fighting against? Federal policy in general and specifically paying fees–that are entirely too small–to allow one’s livestock to graze on public lands: the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service grazing fees are $1.35 per month per animal. A study last year by the Center for Biological Diversity laid out what a farce this program is. In 2015, taxpayers actually paid $125 million so ranchers and farmers could be subsidized to use public lands. If our government had charged what private land owners charge agriculturists, the Feds would have made $261 million dollars. Taxpayers have lost a billion over the last decade in this sham. There is no argument. They’re getting a great deal.
What are the protesters fighting for in North Dakota? Clean frickin’ water so a nation of people is not poisoned by private business. The pipeline being protested would travel 1,200 miles, carrying 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois, and at points, will reportedly be routed beneath the Missouri River and/or it’s tributaries. The builder, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is sure the pipeline would never leak and has stated as much. But the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has discovered more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010. So what are they talking about? The Standing Rock Sioux are fighting for a nation of 10,000 people, that has lived in the Americas for thousands of years, to have something as simple as clean drinking water. The Sioux have vowed to continue to protest peacefully, undeterred by the cold winter months ahead.
That doesn’t sound very just to me.
This article was updated with information on the pipeline’s route.