With a fair amount of attention being given to the Black Lives Matter movement, it was prescient to their cause that what really matters to law enforcement in America is being white and heavily armed. Whether it is called white privilege, or racial animus targeting people of color, it was on display in Ferguson Missouri this week. While decent human beings who believe that Black lives do matter are rightfully pleading for attention to their cause, law enforcement in Ferguson gave the BLM movement another example of why black lives hardly matter and exactly what white privilege means.
As if the anniversary of the murder of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson was not tense enough after a standoff between law enforcement and peaceful protesters, as well as the police shooting of an alleged armed teenager, a group of heavily armed white militiamen paraded around playing army, likely looking for trouble. The so-called patriots, Oath Keepers, made their presence felt in Ferguson, replete with army garb and assault rifles, while police ordered African Americans off the streets due to what officials declared was a “state of emergency” (African Americans gathering to demonstrate). Of course a gathering of unarmed African Americans is considered a state of emergency in and around Ferguson Missouri, and of course armed white men were coddled by police because they were armed white men keeping their “oath” to defend the Constitution. However, it is unclear how armed white militiamen were defending the Constitution, or themselves for that matter, by showing up and “inflaming” an already tense situation.
After St. Louis officials declared a state of emergency because a crowd of African Americans were demonstrating, and riot gear clad police ordered protesters to disperse, police ignored the heavily armed white Oath Keepers. The armed “em>patriots“ were not included in the “get the Hell off your own streets” order because they were heavily armed and they were white males dressed in combat gear. Any peaceable protester ordered to disperse and failed to comply with lawful police orders was arrested; the white militiamen carrying assault weapons were exempt from disperse orders because they were white militiamen carrying assault rifles. Some demonstrators asked the militiamen to leave the area, but since they were heavily-armed white guys posing as patriots, they refused according to their 2nd Amendment rights.
What one hardly has to wonder very long is what the St. Louis law enforcement response would have been if a group of heavily-armed African Americans clad in bullet-proof vests showed up and refused to leave after law enforcement declared a state of emergency and ordered demonstrators to vacate the area. That was a question posed by Ferguson Committeewoman Patricia Bynes who noted that the Oath Keepers presence put a spotlight on the hypocrisy of Missouri’s open carry law. Bynes said, “If there were black and brown people in this country who showed up in the streets open carrying assault rifles in paramilitary garb would they still be received the same way? It seems to be that especially when it comes to the Second Amendment there seems to be a different way that it is enforced.”
Bynes’ remarks are not particularly astute, but they are apropos because the Second Amendment exists solely for white militiamen and her point is well taken. As the past years’ events around the country, but especially in and around Ferguson, have revealed, African Americans are always “received” very differently whether they are walking on the streets unarmed or engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations. In America, it is good to be white and armed, and the police certainly reward white armed “patriots” by giving them special treatment; especially during a “state of emergency.” It is not that while police were herding protesters either off to jail or off the streets they missed the roving militiamen; Bynes and several demonstrators said that “There were two blocks of police. They saw them. If anybody out here tried that they’d be met with a different greeting from police.”
The St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar described the Oath Keepers presence as “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” but none of the armed white guys were asked, or ordered to leave the “state of emergency.” One Oath Keeper explained that the Oath Keepers carrying assault rifles, wearing bulletproof vests and camouflage gear were on the streets of Ferguson to show that they were “happy that we’re able to defend ourselves. It’s been our right for a long time.” It is also their right to call for ‘patriots’ to “Go armed, at all time, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness.” It is more than likely that Ferguson and St. Louis police are well-aware that the Oath Keepers who descended on Ferguson to inflame tensions were more than “ready to do sudden battle…with utter recklessness” and decided that, because they were not unarmed African American protesters, white armed Oath Keepers deserved the latitude they were given during a state of emergency.
According to the St. Louis County Police Department, they were going to consult with the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office about the legalities of the armed Oath Keepers being given carte blanc by police to roam the streets while protesters were being told to disperse. As is typical in America, a spokesman for St. Louis County Police, Shawn McGuire, said he did not believe officers had confronted the Oath Keepers or told them to leave. It is true Missouri law allows individuals with concealed weapons permits to “openly display” firearms unless it is done in an “angry or threatening manner.” However, assault rifles are not concealed weapons, but one might believe that heavily-armed white guys in pretend military garb intimidating unarmed African American protesters would be considered “threatening;” but only if black lives mattered and white privilege was not the order of the day.
The likelihood of St. Louis County Prosecutors doing any more that “consulting with police” about the legalities of armed militiamen roaming around the streets of Ferguson during a state of emergency is zero. Remember, it has been over a year since the same Oath Keepers descended on Nevada to provide the racist anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy with additional firepower and the local sheriff, state police, and federal law enforcement have done absolutely nothing. In fact it is highly likely they have not even ‘consulted‘ with local or federal prosecutors because white privilege and the Second Amendment. As many commenters, including this column noted during the Bundy Ranch sedition, if Bundy or his “patriot” army were made up of people of color, Republicans would have called for federal troops to invade and there would have been a bloodbath. Instead, white privilege garnered the highest praise from Republicans and conservative media; the same media that labeled Ferguson peaceful protesters thugs and criminals in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder by an armed white guy in a police uniform.
There is damn good reason the Black Lives Matter group, whether ‘official members’ or ‘activists,’ are desperate to get their message heard in every possible forum; in America their lives do not matter compared to white lives according to white privilege. It is particularly telling that while officials declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, and ordered unarmed African American demonstrators off the streets, they allowed a group of heavily-armed white Oath Keepers in paramilitary garb to roam the streets unimpeded, or even acknowledged, by law enforcement; if that does not epitomize white privilege in America, it certainly reveals that Black lives do not matter.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.