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Y'all Qaeda: Law Enforcement Strategy In Oregon Prompts Sharp Criticism

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The way things are playing out in Oregon - the fact that law enforcement wants to give this time - has prompted sharp criticism. A column in the Guardian featured this title, "If The Oregon Militiamen Were Muslim Or Black, They'd Probably Be Dead By Now." The same sentiment has been playing out all over social media with hashtags like #whiteprivilege, #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS.

The chief political correspondent for Slate, Jamelle Bouie, has also written about this and has a different take. Jamelle, welcome to the program.

JAMELLE BOUIE: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So this idea that the law enforcement response or the lack thereof is some kind of evidence of a racial double standard, you're not buying it. How come?

BOUIE: I'd say I'm skeptical, and the big reason is that I think people are looking at this as another instance of law enforcement confronting a group of people, but that's not quite what it is.

This isn't a case of a city police force, or even a county police force, engaged in, like, a confrontation with criminals or suspects. This is a case of armed radicals versus federal law enforcement. And that specific kind of confrontation harkens back to incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge and, thus, has a very different kind of valence to it for federal law enforcement.

CORNISH: But you're writing that the question that's being asked here - like, why won't people just kind of shoot at these guys? - isn't just the wrong question but a bad one. In what way?

BOUIE: I think those statements, even if the speakers do not mean them, implicitly suggest that if the government had used violence and force from the outset then there wouldn't be a complaint, that if they're equal opportunity violence, then, you know, there's no basis for grievance. And even if the speakers do not mean that, I think even rhetorically gesturing in that direction is not a place where you want to be because in saying that, it implicitly justifies the kind of violence that they're against.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, as we mentioned, on social media with these of these hashtags, people are making all kinds of jokes. But what does this reveal about, maybe, the frustration that these critics have about how the media or anyone else is kind of talking about what's going on in Oregon?

BOUIE: I think this is much more story about the media given the extent to which, in situations like in Ferguson or in Baltimore, protesters have been described as rioters, have been described in terms that many observers felt were very unfair. And so that frustration is carrying over to this situation where you have these actors, whatever you want to call them and a response, from the media at least, that seems much more gentle compared to what was seen with these other protests in other places.

CORNISH: But the images, say, that television has to show of what's going on in Oregon are markedly different from what they would have had to show on certain days of protests, say, in Baltimore.

BOUIE: I think there is a degree to which this may be apples and oranges. If you are talking about - for example, in Baltimore, there were a few fires the night of the riots, and I would call those riots. And obviously in Oregon, you have nothing like that.

But there's a lot that happens before we lead up to those points. And I think the complaint from critics is that before you got to the point where there were visible indications of rioting, you had descriptions of people as rioters or as disrupting - in a way that you have not seen with the folks in Oregon. And so in that regards, I think there's basis for saying that there's a bit of a double standard.

CORNISH: Jamelle Bouie is chief political correspondent for Slate. His article is called "Is The Oregon Standoff Evidence Of A Racial Double Standard?"

Thanks so much for talking with us.

BOUIE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.