That an all-white jury would acquit an all-white band of armed protesters of all wrongdoing in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff riled people across America, many of whom pointed to counter-examples that they say prove a similar band of blacks or Latinos would never have been cleared.
The scenes of white Malheur refuge occupiers walking free on the same day that police and National Guard officers used mace and batons to arrest and drive away unarmed Native Americans protesting an oil pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation raised particular ire.
The acquittals also follow police action against a diverse group of protesters in Portland who opposed a recently approved police union contract.
Huh. Wonder what woulda happened if they’d been black… https://t.co/55Iv15mvaW
— Soledad O’Brien (@soledadobrien) October 28, 2016
Twitter quickly filled with indignant Tweets, featuring hashtags such as #WatchWhitenessWork, saying that if the occupiers had been black or brown, they would have been shot, not politely tried and found not guilty.
Rolling Stone writer Jesse Bernie tweeted: “In case you’re wondering what white privilege looks like, it’s taking over a federal building with guns and getting off scot-free.”
Carlos Covarrubias, a leader of Race Talks, the monthly conversation that typically draws 175 people to the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland, said he was upset by the obvious double standard.
“Look at the way Black Lives Matter protesters are treated, when they’re not occupying anything,” he said. “They’re in their own neighborhoods and they are unarmed, yet they are made to feel completely unsafe by state authorities and sometimes federal authorities.”
Black ppl, the acquittal of the #oregonstandoff gunmen should remove any doubt that we live in a complete system of white supremacy
— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) October 28, 2016
Defense lawyer Matthew Schindler, however, pointed out that the jury was representative of Oregon’s geographical diversity. Oregon’s adult citizen population — those eligible to serve on juries — is 84 percent white, the Census Bureau says.
Four of the 12 original jurors were from the three-county Portland metro area. Three were from the Eugene/Springfield area, and others were from St. Helens, Klamath Falls, Baker City and Hood River.
Schindler, who was standby counsel for defendant Kenneth Medenbach, said the geographical diversity was very important to the defendants’ cases. He said it was helpful to have picked “a jury from the entire state of Oregon, instead of what typically happens in federal court, which is that you have 10 of the 12 jurors from Portland.”
“So I think we got a very balanced perspective on the case,” he said.
All they did was stage an armed takeover of a government building. It’s not like they knelt during the national anthem. #oregonstandoff
— Scare-ic D. Spider (@EricDSnider) October 28, 2016
Covarrubias, who works in the Washington County public defender’s office, is familiar with the challenges of getting anything but a white point of view from the people in an Oregon jury box.
“Oregon is a very white place,” he said. “Chances are slim to none you’re going to have even one person of color on a jury.”
And, he said, he finds it disheartening how many poor white people side with the Bundys and people like them but not with the struggles of minorities.
He called the acquittal “pretty telling to the mindset of white America right now. Poor white people, they still center their own struggle before anything else. It’s pretty sad.”
Covarrubias said he worries what will happen as a result of the resounding list of “not guilty” findings.
“They’re basically giving a free to pass to other militia groups that want to organize in Oregon and other rural parts of the United States,” he said. “The ramifications could be dangerous.”
Note: This post has been updated to reflect Oregon’s white non-Hispanic 18-and-over citizen population. Only adult citizens are eligible to serve on juries. Children and non-citizens here legally or illegally cannot serve.
— The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Aimee Green contributed to this report.
— Betsy Hammond