After a traffic stop to end the unlawful occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon took a deadly turn, local sheriff Dave Ward was visibly upset when he appeared at a news briefing. He talked about the efforts to end the standoff peacefully and the work of multiple agencies to devise the best tactical plan, and he lamented the death of one of the armed occupiers. But he also stressed that “I’m here to uphold the law.” Any examination of the handling of these events must not overlook that important point — that authorities had a responsibility to take action against lawbreakers who were posing an increasing threat to the community.

Investigation into Tuesday’s fatal shooting of LaVoy Finicum by an Oregon state trooper is ongoing, so it’s premature to make a definitive judgment about whether authorities acted appropriately. However, a surveillance video released by the FBI appears to show Finicum reaching for a loaded handgun before he was shot. “On at least two occasions, Finicum reaches his right hand toward a pocket on the left inside portion of his jacket. He did have a loaded 9mm semiautomatic handgun in that pocket,” said FBI agent Greg Bretzing. Finicum — who previously had said he would rather die than be arrested — had, moments earlier, attempted to barrel through a police barricade, nearly hitting an FBI agent.

The 26-minute video may be open to interpretation, but it clearly debunks claims by apologists for the armed occupation that Finicum was ambushed and shot down in cold blood. Five other people were arrested without incident in Tuesday’s police operation, so it seems reasonable to suppose, in the absence of clear contrary evidence, that Finicum’s death would have been averted if he had behaved differently. “Actions,” as Bretzing said, “have consequences.”

Those who conducted the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will have to answer for their actions; so far, 11 people are facing federal charges. That they wanted to call attention to their dissatisfaction with the federal government’s management of public land didn’t give them the right to flout the law, disrupt a community and terrorize its citizens.

Ward said it best: “There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community. If we have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act on those in an appropriate manner. We don’t arm up. We don’t arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels.”

Editorial by The Washington Post

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.