Feb 4, 2016

Tale of Two Cities: How Officials Respond to "threatening" Situations

I read two interesting articles, back to back, as I browsed the Internet this morning. When I finished reading them, I immediately thought of “The Tale of Two Cities”, by Charles Dickens.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, go back and refer to the Cliff notes, as we all did in studying for a class. Charles Dickens begins “The Tale of Two Cities” by developing the central theme of duality. His pairings of contrasting concepts such as the "best" and "worst" of  times, "Light" and "Darkness, "and "hope" and "despair" reflect the mirror images of good and evil that will recur in characters and situations throughout the novel. The year is 1775, and life in England and France seems paradoxically the best and the worst that it can be. The rulers and ruling classes of both countries may have the best of life, but they are out of touch with the common people and believe that the status quo will continue forever. Of course as you read on, you’ll see drastic changes that most of the people never expected.

I began my reading journey this morning with an article that focused on the January 2, 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a federal property in Burns, Oregon by a group of self-styled armed militants. The group, led by three brothers from the Clive Bundy family of Nevada, is protesting the arrest of a father and son pair of Oregon ranchers scheduled to begin 5 year prison sentences. Dwight Hammond Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, were convicted of arson three years ago for fires they started on federal property. Both men served time  — the father three months, the son one year. The pair said they lit the fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. A judge ordered them to return to prison Monday to serve an additional four years because the time already served did not meet minimum-sentencing laws. The pair reported to prison peacefully, but said they will seek clemency from President Obama.

The occupation of the wildlife refuge reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. In phone interviews from inside the occupied building on the night of the takeover, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said.
On January 26, after the standoff had lasted more than three weeks, the FBI and Oregon State Police arrested eight, including leader Ammon Bundy, and killed one member of the self-styled, armed militia who staged a takeover. Three more militia members were arrested later in the day after turning themselves in. As of February 4, four people remain at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. the occupiers said they were in contact with the FBI. The occupiers said they were in contact with the FBI and want pardons for all who were involved in the standoff.

After reading about the militia standoff in Oregon, I flipped my page to information about the MOVE group in Philadelphia in 1985, thirty years ago. MOVE was a Philadelphia-based, self-proclaimed black liberation group founded by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart) in 1972. The group lived communally and frequently engaged in public demonstrations against racism, police brutality, and other issues.

The MOVE group was particularly known for two major conflicts with the Philadelphia Police. In 1978, a standoff resulted in the death of one police officer, injuries to several other people and life sentences for 9 members. In 1985, another standoff was ended when the police deliberately dropped a bomb on their compound, which was a row home in the middle of a city street; Osage Ave. This resulted in the deaths of 11 MOVE members, including the leader John Africa and 5 children, the destruction of 65 houses and widespread news coverage.

The handling of this situation in Oregon in 2016 may be the best of times and the 1985 slaughter of the MOVE group in Philadelphia was certainly the worst of times. I’m sure the scholars can explain in detail why the participants were treated so differently.  The final solution took place in Philadelphia with the MOVE group in 1985. We’ll just wait for a final resolution to the standoff in Oregon.

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