Earlier this year, brothers Ammond and Ryan Bundy were two of many militants who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. They had occupied the land from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11 when officers made a final arrest. The group claimed their armed takeover of the land was to protest the federal ownership over the land, which they claimed should have been turned over to the states. Their legal team and their five co-defendants, surprisingly, stated that they were aware that they were occupying government land and that they were not wanted on the property. Although they knew and admitted to breaking the law, they were acquitted on all charges. Jurors who were interviewed stated that they believed the prosecutor had overreached in bringing the case to trial and that the government was trying too hard to stretch details of the incident in order to convict the seven on trial.
However, the response on social media was not nearly as blasé. Numerous people saw it as a textbook example of a double standard. The way law enforcement has treated the Bundys in comparison to Dakota Access Pipeline and Black Lives Matter protesters is a crystal clear demonstration of racism in the legal system. Recently, protesters from multiple groups, including many from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, were fired on with rubber bullets by police. Floris White Bull was one of the 141 protesters arrested in October. She stated that police at the Morton County Correctional Center wrote numbers on them with black marker and kept them in dog kennels and cages in the garage. “My mind, I couldn’t wrap it around the fact that this is happening today. This isn’t something that we’re reading in history books,” White Bull said. It isn’t hard to distinguish the obvious bias in how these protesters were brutalized and how the Bundys’ protest was allowed to go on for over 40 days without interference such as this.
It is disappointing that even when the Bundys and their group, the Patriot Movement, have admitted to what could be defined as an act of domestic terrorism they still barely get a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, protesters who are trying to protect the natural resources they depend on as well as members of their own communities are depicted as rioters and anarchist criminals. That is why this verdict is so jarring; it shows that the prejudice in the judicial system will work in a person’s favor even if they admit to a crime that was documented for 41 days on national television. It is obvious that while America progresses onward in the name of societal change, there is still a lot of work that has to be done.