Opinion: A discriminatory free speech

Although the First Amendment guarantees freedoms not found in other countries, theyre not being acknowledged in some issues writes editor-in-chief Megan Lin.

Although the First Amendment guarantees freedoms not found in other countries, they’re not being acknowledged in some issues writes editor-in-chief Megan Lin.

America has always been known as a free country, with the First Amendment protecting free speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. These unalienable rights are undoubtedly only some of the defining characteristics of the US, and yet they are implicitly discriminative.

Thursday, a jury found Ammon and Ryan Bundy and seven other defendants of Oregon not guilty of federal felony conspiracy offenses from an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge early this year. The shocking decision is sparking controversy all across the nation.

Government prosecutors argued that the brothers that led a 26 person militia were violent in occupying the reserve while the defendants cited a predatory federal government that was destroying Western communities’ ways of life by placing restrictions on land use.

Some believe that the occupation was an act of terrorism, while others believe it was an act of civil disobedience to protest federal control of lands that rightfully belongs to the farmers and ranchers of the West whose livelihoods depend on cultivation of land.

In another part of the country, native peoples of North Dakota are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline which would stretch 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. The notion is that the oil pipeline would help America be more self-sufficient in oil production.

However, the pipeline’s construction would destroy sacred Native American burial and prayer sites, as well as cultural artifacts. There have also been environmental concerns about the impact of the pipeline on global climate and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters staged a peaceful blockade.

More than 100 protesters were arrested were arrested for setting up tents and teepees on the land that authorities say is pipeline property. Riot police pepper sprayed protesters and set off a high pitch siren to break up the crowd.

Regardless of which side to take, it’s very clear that both the Bundys and the Native Americans are taking a stand for what they believe is an incursion on what is rightfully theirs. Even so, it does not take much to see the disparity in the two cases.

The discrepancy in the definition of civil disobedience is alarmingly apparent. The jury involved in the Oregon standoff case sympathized with the militia who only wanted to protest government overreach and posed no threat to the public. On the other hand, the Sioux and other protesters were arrested and strip searched for attaching themselves to construction equipment that kept workers from doing their job and trespassing on private property.

According to the Bundys and their followers, they carried guns into a federal facility to protect themselves against possible government attack. A totally reasonable logic, but still against the law. Meanwhile, the natives are arrested for engaging in “illegal activities” with their protests of latching onto vehicles being labeled as “not peaceful or lawful” by Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier.

The country’s issues regarding private, state, and federal power concerning land in the West stem all the way back to its birth, along with the controversy surrounding the treatment of Native Americans since Columbus arrived in 1492. Clearly, both are still ongoing disputes, but the issue here is not these subjective debates.

The issue is the difference in the treatment of people who exercised their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. Regardless of whether or not they broke laws in the process, the outcomes and the actions of the justice system should be the same. Clearly, they are not.

I take no sides in either conflict, but I do take a side in what is glaringly obvious. One party is being called patriots while the other is being called a violent riot. Both parties are taking a stand against what is believed to be a trespassing federal government. Both declare civil disobedience, and yet, only one party is being treated like peaceful protesters trying to get their voices heard.

If this distinctive gap between protests citing American patriotism and protests citing defense of another culture’s sacred values is not a clear problem to the people of the US, then that attitude sends a very clear message to the minorities of America: Unless your protests support American patriotism and American values and none else, they will go unheard.