It was disheartening to see on the front page of the Aug. 26 Wallowa County Chieftain that a prominent hate group has a presence in our county.

The Proud Boys are described on Wikipedia as “a far-right neofascist organization that admits only men as members and promotes and engages in political violence.”

I don’t know the young men in the local chapter, but I’m sure they are likable fellows who joined this group for the same reasons anyone joins any gang, fraternal organization or social club: for camaraderie and meaning.

“Harmless,” you might say. But the Proud Boys have instigated violence all over the United States. They are, as an organization, not harmless. I don’t know the activities of the local chapter, but just having it in our community is concerning for anyone who values diversity, justice or peace.

Having Proud Boys at the Back the Blue rally changed the tenor of it. The Proud Boys have little to do with supporting law enforcement. In fact, many members have criminal records. Instead of maintaining the message “we support our local police” (which I think most people do), their presence turned the rally into a retort to the well-attended Black Lives Matter rally that occurred in May — in essence, the PB’s presence turned it into a “White Lives Matter” rally.

Which brings us to the need to understa nd a couple things about Black Lives Matter.

First, BLM is not asking for special treatment. It is asking that people of color receive the same treatment in our society that white people receive. Last week, a bunch of armed, white men stormed the state capital in Idaho. They rushed the police, resisted arrest, two days in a row, and yet none of them was shot. Imagine if this had been a bunch of African Americans acting the same way. So yes, law enforcement is a “pinch point,” where the ways people of color are treated inequitably are very easy to see. This is why police officers are a focus of BLM.

Second, think about what you are comparing when you pit Black Lives against Blue Lives. Being a police officer is a choice. It is a job. Once you take your uniform off and go to the lake with a fishing pole, you’re just a person. If you’re white. Black people cannot remove their skin, and this sometimes costs them their lives.

Third, racism isn’t about individuals, it’s about systems. That one of the Wallowa County Proud Boys appears to be African American is irrelevant. BLM is protesting the racist systems of oppression that make life easier for some people and harder (or deadly) for others, not individuals’ opinions about skin color.

The young men who are members of the PB have every right to be in that group. They have the right to meet privately and punch the crap out of each other (check out their initiation rituals), and feel powerful and feel a part of something. But as a community, I think it’s important we make sure that known far-right, neofacist organizations are not given public platforms, including being pictured front and center in this newspaper. We do not want to encourage them.

Do we?

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Kristy Athens is a resident of Enterprise.

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