Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Easy Does It

Ground zero.

First things first: I get the outrage.

No, I'm not talking about anything being said by any member of the Bundy family, whether it involves claiming they have a right to graze their damn cattle anywhere they damn well feel like it, for free; or the notion that occupying a publicly-owned wildlife refuge is somehow a patriotic defense of the Constitution. Any outrage expressed by either Cliven Bundy or his son Ammon is hypocritical nonsense that ought not be given even a tiny fraction of the air time it's receiving. How could anyone seriously believe such things? (Though, in light of the rabidness of first the Tea Party movement and, more recently, Donald Trump's followers, it's clear there's a significant minority of Americans who do.)

The outrage I understand is that of the progressive voices I see everywhere I look on the social media I peruse, voices angrily comparing nationwide violence by police against persons of color with the measured approach the FBI is taking to this criminal occupation of a federal facility. Viewed purely in equity terms, the outrage is well-founded.

What's not is the conclusion so many of these progressives are drawing: that Ammon Bundy and his band of gun nuts is receiving special treatment by virtue of their whiteness. I get that, as well as the eagerness so many express to have the government crack down on these right wing insurgents, give them a taste of the medicine so often dealt to persons who are guilty of nothing but having some brown in their complexions.

There are two things missing from these reactions. First is a dose of common sense. If it's wrong when cops beat up and shoot brown people, it's just as wrong for them to do it to white people. Massive violent responses to property crimes typify fascism, not liberal democracy. We want less violence, not more.

The other thing they're missing is jurisdiction. Police violence against persons of color is committed by local cops. It's a horrendous problem, the solution to which is rendered vastly more difficult by its provincial nature. There are no accurate statistics for these incidents because there's no standard way of reporting them to a federal agency--nor a single federal way of addressing them. If American policing was conducted by a national security service, as is the case in many African countries, it would be a simple matter to impose a policy that applied to all police. But that's not the American way: federal policing makes Americans nervous, as well it should. Many of those African countries that don't really distinguish between the police and military are dictatorships.

Of course, we do have a national police force: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since the crime is taking place on federal property, the FBI has jurisdiction. As frustrated as the local sheriff may be, he's got no authority there. The FBI is dictating strategy, and since two high-profile bloodbaths in the 1990s that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing (a terrorist act by an individual who, if he were still alive, would almost certainly want to be part of the group occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge), the FBI has been far more cautious about dealing with right-wing gun nuts. It really has nothing to do with the skin color of the perpetrators: if they were black or brown, the FBI would be mandated by their own policy to be just as cautious. As a federal agency, they are required to be color-blind in their dealings with criminals. It's one of the good things about federalism: when the US military was required to integrate, it happened immediately. That's how the military became a model for the rest of the country.

And here's a thought for those of you feeling righteous progressive outrage: the FBI, in practicing restraint and preferring deescalation to going in with guns blazing, is showing the rest of the country how it ought to be handling occupations of public spaces by groups like the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. It does mean that this standoff is likely to go on longer--though with electricity cut off, and with only modest supplies, I doubt it can last anywhere near as long as Ammon Bundy insists it will. You can't eat ammunition.

So everybody take a deep breath, and back away from your keyboards. Most Americans are appalled at what these invaders are doing on public land, don't buy into their nutty ideas, and if anything, are becoming even less inclined to vote Republican as a result. The only people who will benefit from a massive armed response are the other nut jobs in the Christian Identity movement. We don't need another Ruby Ridge or Waco, and we certainly don't want another Oklahoma City. Freezing and starving them out is enough.

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