What Would Happen if the Armed Men in Oregon Weren’t White?


The situation in Oregon, where armed white men have taken over a federal wildlife refuge building most likely in the hopes of a confrontation with federal authorities, has caused many to wonder if there is a racial bias within both the media and the government.

Comparisons and accusations flew after news broke that a group of armed men had taken protest to the next level by taking over the Malheaur Wildlife Refuge, a federal building, in Oregon. Most notably, people online began to ask questions like “Where’s the National Guard?” and “Where is all the media coverage?” referencing the protests in Baltimore last year when the National Guard was called in after the death of Freddie Gray.

In the ongoing Oregon standoff not much as been done other than closing local schools, warning the public not to go into the area, and the FBI cooperating with local law enforcement.

Yet, 30 years ago a similar standoff happened between an anti-government group of African-Americans and police. This situation resulted in the group, called MOVE, being bombed and burned alive.

In the 1970s and 1980s, members of the liberation group MOVE had similar sentiments towards government control as the armed men in Oregon have today. They sought “a natural lifestyle, free of government control, law enforcement, and technology.” The lived in a barricaded house and were animal rights activists.

In 1978, police were ordered to evict MOVE members from a home in Philadelphia and then bulldoze it. When police stormed the building a shootout resulted in the death of one police officer, James J. Ramp. Nine members of MOVE were convicted of his murder and still remain in jail.

Years later, in May of 1985, remaining MOVE members had taken up residence in a different home. After receiving several complaints from neighbors about blow-horn noise and smell from the garbage, the police showed up to evict them. Officers initially threw tear gas into the house, which was answered with gunfire from an unknown shooter. Instead of choosing any other possible option, officers fired 10,000 rounds into the house, followed by explosives, and finally a bomb from a helicopter. This was all without knowing the situation inside the house. The bomb caused a fire that spread to 65 homes. 250 people were displaced. Five children and six adults were killed from the group, with one woman and one child left alive.

The lone adult survivor, Romona Africa, told Democracy Now! that they attempted to leave the house but could not because of they were “met with a barrage of police gunfire.”

Years later, in 1996, Africa was paid a settlement, along with MOVE leader John Africa and John’s nephew. Parents of the five children killed also received a settlement from the city, as well as relatives of the other adult victims.

So why is it that a situation where a group of African Americans, who are residing in their own residence, results in a bombing but no charges for the city officials who ordered it? But a situation with a group of armed white men forcefully taking over a federal building and publicly stating they will not rule out violence, results in negotiations with law enforcement?

According to ThinkProgress, although there have been isolated instances where violence was used against white extremists, there is a disproportionate amount of black people who have been penalized for using guns in self-defense situations. Studies also show police are more likely to use physical force against African Americans.


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