How can a group of armed militiamen who take over federal land, do so with national news coverage, and never deny their actions possibly be found innocent of the crime? This is a question that many are asking after being informed of the jury’s decision in the case of Ammon Bundy and several of his allies who were unanimously voted to be acquitted of their charges in regard to their early 2016 takeover of a nature reserve in Oregon. These are men who have no qualms in admitting what they did, and yet were found to be innocent. How does this happen?
Some say the fault lies with the prosecutors. They decided to slap the Bundy entourage with charges of conspiracy when something lesser might have been more appropriate. Not only that, but their mismanagement of a certain detail of their case, that they had sent governmental into Bundy’s camp in the later days of the occupation, led to the jury believing they had something to hide. There is definitely truth to this, as a bumbled case will have a hard time removing “reasonable doubt” on the part of the jury.
Personally, however, I think that the secret weapon on the side of the Bundy family, the one that really allowed them to escape these charges, is race. Simply imagine for a second if the Bundy family was African American and did exactly what the real family did. Imagine the uproar in the media, imagine the reactions on social media, imagine the whirlwind. There is very little chance that a non-white family would have been able to do what the Bundys did and get away with it.
Consciously or not, the bias of the world would have crept into the minds of the jurors and they would have reached a biased decision. Just like they did this time around.
Statistically, it simply takes more evidence on average to indict a white defendant of a crime than one of another race.
Ultimately, the crime often ends up being less important than who committed it in America. What makes this particular instance stand out, however, is the brashness with which a verdict thought to be certain was avoided. The Bundys may have done their campaign with the intent of exposing the US government’s unconstitutionality in managing public lands, but what they ended up exposing was the sad truth of racial inequality in the justice system.