Life + Culture

MLK and the Bundy Oregon Standoff

Dr. Adam Ployd

The following originally appeared on Facebook in a January 3rd post by Dr. Adam Ployd, who has granted permission to reprint it here. Adam is a Deacon in the United Methodist Church and an Assistant Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Eden Theological Seminary.

Do note that the very-much-armed Oregon militia will patiently and repeatedly be given every opportunity to peacefully surrender... because we value their lives more than a 12-year-old black boy's life or an 18-year-old black teenager's life. The authorities will do everything in their power not to "escalate" the situation, to avoid using deadly force. Whatever you think about what Michael Brown did or did not do in his confrontation with a police officer, there were many options other than shooting him. Whatever you think of Tamir Rice and his pellet gun, there were many options other than shooting him.

Individual law enforcement officers (LEOs) may or may not be "racist." That's not the real issue. The culture and practice of law enforcement in the US are inherently racist because of these deeply rooted and all-too-often repeated contradictions. The fact is, since the moment we who believe ourselves to be white first enslaved and subjugated those we deemed black, we have cultivated a powerful fear of the black body acting in anything but a submissive manner.

Political cartoon: young black boy with toy gun labeled 'thug'; big burly white NRA supporter with real gun labeled 'patriot'From slavery to lynching to segregation to the war on drugs, American "law and order" has gone hand-in-hand with a fear of black bodies. Does this mean we should not punish crime? No, it does not. But it means we should look at things like the Oregon militia and the Bundy ranch stand-off and realize that the way we deal with crime (and the way we determine what counts as crime) is deeply racist (and classist).

This is what we mean when we say "the whole damn system is guilty as hell." This is why people are marching in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland. And this is why those who are shocked and horrified by the lootings and arsons (which of course I do not condone) are in fact missing the point.

Note especially the "patriot" language that the militia (and others like it) use. They have been taught, as we all have, that our glorious founding fathers righteously resorted to violence when they believe the legal, political, and economic system of the British government was oppressive to them. We celebrate their destruction of others' property in the Boston Tea Party and we call them heroes for refusing to obey the government-sanctioned LEOs and we laud their courage in attacking and killing the brave young men who proudly served their nation in the armed forces.

We, white people, are given these violent acts of destruction and death as legitimate models for dealing with injustice. And the Oregon militia is using all the rhetoric associated with that narrative.

MLK and Malcom X converse with a police officer in the forgroundBut black folks in America are given a different model. They are given Martin Luther King Jr (MLK). Don't get me wrong; I love MLK and personally share his commitment to non-violence. But it is no accident that MLK is the civil rights leader that has been embraced and sanctioned by white culture. Think about how you learned about the Civil Rights Movement. Think about who was lifted up as the models of righteous change. Think about how Malcolm X or the Black Panthers were explicitly condemned as extremists or too violent. Now, I again am more inclined to the ethics of MLK, but the way in which this narrative is told and the choice to lift up MLK above all others is not an accident.

Whites are taught to imitate the revolutionary violence of the patriots. And this is nurtured in the rhetoric of the NRA and the Tea Party. And it is manifest in the actions of Bundy and the militia. Blacks are taught to imitate the peaceful suffering of MLK. And this is nurtured through public school curriculum and the popular retelling of the Civil Rights Movement in a way that ends with MLKs death. And it is manifest when the national guard brings in armored vehicles to suppress protest and the news media sensationalizes the "senseless" violence of looters.

Artwork depicting a halo-ed Tamir Rice
Damon Davis IG: damondavis// Twitter: heartacheNpaint
Heartacheandpaint.com

The Oregon militia will most likely walk out alive, probably after being given a long, long, long time to surrender peacefully. Tamir Rice will never walk again. Because we fear his body, his 12-year-old black body, more than we fear white men with automatic weapons actively rebelling against our government.

And should the Oregon standoff go south, should we have another Waco or Ruby Ridge, yes there will be outcry from whites, condemnations of government overreach and abuse, from many of the same people who justify the killing of Tamir and Michael and so many others. Why will they cry out? Because they will see the power of state-sanctioned violence brought to bear on the "wrong" people.

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