West Views: Oregon must move on peacefully

Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early January.
Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early January. AP

East Oregonian (Pendleton)

January 26, 2016, will rank among the darkest days in modern Eastern Oregon history. And that darkness is far from over.

One man was killed, eight others were arrested, and tension has been ratcheted up once again at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. What for 24 days was an occupation and protest can now only be described as a standoff between insurrectionists and the government.

Our ability to navigate this tense situation without further bloodshed will be put to the test.

The chances are not good. Armed protesters have sworn to die before they surrender. And federal authorities have brought in concrete barriers and floodlights, and have cut off reinforcements and physical contact with the outside world.

Bloodshed is what everyone has been trying to avoid from the beginning of this protest, but on Tuesday night they were unable to do so. Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed while en route to a community meeting at John Day. The details of that event are not yet known, though it hasn’t stopped thousands from speculating on it.

We live in a snap-judgment world, and the Internet doesn’t have time for facts. They can be made up to fit a narrative, and then passed along and shared enough times that they begin to carry an air of truth. It’s the telephone game on steroids, and few will stick around (and then trust) what is eventually released by law enforcement through the slow-moving wheels of the justice department.

It’s terrible that a man died. He shouldn’t have. However, we will hold off on assigning blame.

The last three weeks have been hell on Harney County, and the highways that surround Burns look more like Baghdad. Few Oregonians are among those remaining in the national wildlife refuge. With the loss of their leaders, who knows how this will play out and what damage to life and property and environment will be done.

America must support the right to protest. It’s the First Amendment for a reason.

No one should be injured or killed or threatened or jailed because of something they believe.

But, as was said by the FBI in Burns on Wednesday, actions have consequences. The occupiers are the reason why Burns feels more like a war zone. They stole and used vehicles that did not belong to them. They took property that was not theirs. They destroyed fences without permission. They built roads unbidden and rummaged through countless Native artifacts that they had no right to. This vandalism needed ending.

We can argue — and we should argue — about the finer points of the Hammonds case, the Bundys case, about the BLM’s grazing policy, the decline of rural economies, the importance of peaceful protest and armed demonstration. We need to have those discussions.

But this is America, and we make those changes through a democratic system.

We all have our problems with this country, and everyone has a list a mile long of things they would change. So we vote for people we like and we think will make things better. We convince our friends and neighbors to do the same. And if we’re being mistreated or not being heard, we have the courts and we have marches down Main Street.

We do not arm ourselves to the teeth, take things that are not ours, intimidate and harass those we disagree with. We especially cannot allow that to be the status quo for the difficult slog of public lands management, which will forever be a contentious issue.

Tuesday’s events have a chance to spiral out of control and leave Eastern Oregon a more desolate, bitter, angry and violent place than before.

It will take the strength of our communities, our love of country, and our trust in one another to rise above it. We must do it.

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