Equality of injustice

Atlantic Monthly on Oregon and mandatory minimums: http://tinyurl.com/gve9ha4

Google the phrase “I would rather die than be caged.” I thought maybe the search would pull up a heroic Native American, like Crazy Horse, who was killed in federal custody.

Instead, it pulled up 54-year-old Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. He spoke those words in an interview he gave during the protest takeover of an unoccupied building at Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. That takeover was done by, among others, Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and others who called themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. Finicum said he could not stand to be in prison and not be able to “get on my horse in the morning and go tend to my cows.”

On Jan. 26, Finicum was killed in the act of being arrested by FBI and Oregon State Police. Arrested were Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, and six other “militants.” Two were women.

Finicum particpated in a lightly armed “occupation” of a deserted building on a public wildlife preserve in sparsely populated Hanley County, Oregon. CCF was protesting mandatory minimum sentences of five years handed down to two members of the local Hammond family for setting firebreaks on their own property that ran over into federal land. The CCF takeover of essentially a Keurig coffeemaker in a maintenance shack was to protest how federal land agencies treat ranchers.

The people of Burns, Oregon, near Malheur were conflicted over the CCF takeover of the maintenance building. Bundy and Finicum appeared at several town halls to explain their actions.

On that Tuesday, Finicum, Bundy and others in two cars were stopped by a state police roadblock on the way to a community meeting. There is only one video of the incident, taken from a helicopter. Finicum, in the lead car, pulled away from the roadblock, then swerved off the road into a snow bank. When he got out of the car, his hands were up in gesture of surrender. He took a few steps towards an officer who was pointing his service weapon at him. Then Finicum turned back to the car where the others were still getting out. His hand appears to move to his chest. The police say he was reaching for a loaded 9 mm pistol in a coat pocket. The officer behind Finicum opened fire, hitting him in the back. (An autopsy report is pending.) The troopers are accused of shooting him when down.

Was Finicum, the father of 11 children, actually going for a loaded weapon when he looked back toward his companions emerging from his vehicle? There is no audio, but witness testimony says the state police fired numerous rounds at the car, wounding Ryan Bundy but miraculously none of the others. Did he reach for a gun because they were firing on the car? Did he just stumble in the snow? So far, there is no evidence that the CCF protesters were firing at the officers. There are no reports of law enforcement officer casualties.

I see the police shooting of Finicum as another shooting that will never be fully explained. The investigation will no doubt conclude favorably for the law enforcement officers the same way nearly all these probes conclude favorably for them.

Ammon Bundy called for the few remaining occupiers to leave. Those coming to Bend are being asked to leave rifles at home. Stand down. The incident is now in the courts. No doubt the charges will be tied to terrorism for the heinous crime of taking over an empty maintenance shack. The CCF protesters will probably be looking at five-year mandatory minimums.