Picture this: You live in one of the 45 states in America that allows the open carry of firearms. You are pulling into the parking lot of your local grocery store when you see an African American in a hoodie with a handgun. You walk inside the store and find a bearded Muslim man walking around with a gun at his waist. As you checkout at the cashier, you see a white man in line with a pistol at his side. Under this law, all three encounters should be seen as perfectly acceptable and normal yet the reality is that the bias in today's media has caused us to become discriminatory and fearful people. The first two men would most likely be seen as people who pose a threat, a thug and a terrorist respectively, while the last man would be seen as a patriotic American citizen simply exercising his constitutional right to carry a firearm.
On Saturday, some 150 predominately white armed men took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The protestors then broke into a federal building on the refuge and refused to leave, with members of this occupation setting up a roadblock and two of their armed men manning a nearby guard tower. This armed occupation was in protest of the "tyranny" of the federal government with the goal of pressuring the government to turn over federal-owned land to the local ranchers, loggers, and miners of Oregon. These armed men stated, "they're willing to kill and be killed if necessary" and "would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them". Addressing the seriousness of this armed occupation, the Senator of Oregon added that these men "are willing to take the law into their own hands".
This is a huge deal. We are talking about armed men taking over government property and using the threat of violence in an attempt to change federal law. Schools in the area have been shut down and local residents say they are "scared to death" about the violence that could ensue.
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as "acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law" that are "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct". According to the FBI itself, an act of terrorism took place this past Saturday yet the average American had little to no idea about it due to the disparity in media coverage and police response when it comes to violence in America.
Let's take a quick look at the media response to this armed occupation:
The Washington Post called the armed occupation a "land dispute" (note how the media previously referred the Chapel Hill terrorist attack, where an armed Caucasian man killed three innocent Muslim Americans execution-style, as a "parking dispute") and even went as far as to calling these armed protestors "activists" in their article.
The police response to this armed occupation was no better. According to reporters in the area, "local police said they had no intention of going to the scene, not even to keep watch on the militia". The White House also showed an equal amount of indifference, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying that President Obama is aware of the situation but that it is a "local law enforcement matter" despite the fact that this directly involves federal government land. Press Secretary Earnest added that "the FBI is monitoring the situation and offering support to the local law enforcement officials", but as I mentioned earlier, local reporters have yet to see a significant police presence in the now illegally occupied federal area.
As a Muslim American who has repeatedly been called a terrorist and told "to go back home" as a result of the media's overdramatic coverage on the crimes carried out by "Muslims" that don't represent the teachings of my faith, my mind is filled with questions:
Why is it that when a person violates the law in the United States, the extent of the media coverage on that crime is more correlated with the criminal's ethnicity rather than the severity of the crime itself?
Why is it that when 150 unarmed African Americans occupied a blocked off street in Ferguson, they were tear-gassed, smoke-bombed, and shot down with rubber bullets? Why is it that the national guard was brought in with brutality when unarmed blacks were simply pleading for their civil rights last year yet not a single police officer was seen when armed whites in Oregon violated federal law this past weekend? Why is it that the last time an armed black anti-government group protested against the federal government, they were bombed and burned alive? Why is that unarmed black people were killed at six times the rate of unarmed white people in America last year?
Why is it that Muslims are repeatedly called terrorists when the FBI stated that over 93% of terrorists in the United States from 1980 to 2005 have been non-Muslims? Why is that the media portrays Muslims as a demographic threat to America when more Americans were killed by toddlers last year than by Muslims? Why is it that when a suspect in a crime happens to be Muslim, the media is quick to label him as an "Islamic terrorist" before they even have enough information to identify him by name?
I am not saying that the armed men in Oregon should be subjected to the same hateful and irrational unsubstantiated accusations that African Americans or Muslims continually face. I am simply asking, when is the last time we heard of large groups of armed blacks or Muslims being referred to as a militia rather than as thugs and terrorists? When was the last time an armed African American violated the law to a similar extent as we saw in Oregon and it didn't result in a burial? When was the last time an armed Muslim committed a crime and wasn't labeled as a terrorist all across breaking headlines nationwide?
These questions need answers because we can no longer afford to ignore them. Ignoring them has resulted in the racism and discrimination that has propagated the police brutality that is dropping the bodies of innocent unarmed blacks like leaves in the autumn. Ignoring them has resulted in the racism and discrimination that causes the daily Islamophobic attacks which leave covered American Muslim women terrified to leave their homes. It is this racism and discrimination that has divided our nation and caused hate to overpower our unity.
This nation we live in is called the United States of America for a reason. We must stand united. And we must stand up for each other. I am Tamir Rice. I am Deah Barakat. I am every single innocent American that was killed or oppressed as a result of discriminatory hatred. And lastly, I am simply asking this: Do not allow the disparity in media converge to turn you into a hateful person. Speak up when you hear of injustice. Stand up for those who are being unjustly victimized. Live up to being the change you wish to see in the world.