There are consequences to our actions. That is undeniable. Sometimes the actions have immediate eternal consequences. That was the case for Lavoy Finicum, who died when he was shot by law enforcement officers. There are two basic camps on this shooting, as I see it: people (mostly law enforcement types or their families) who think Finicum’s actions resulted in a predictable outcome that he could have avoided; and people who think Finicum is a hero.
Lavoy Finicum was not a hero. However well-intentioned he may have been, he acted stupidly and died as a consequence of his own actions. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Finicum was part of a group that “occupied” the buildings of a wild life refuge in Eastern Oregon. They said they were exercising their right of civil disobedience; they were protesting government control of forest lands, as well as the conviction and incarceration of two men who had been burned some BLM land in order to protect their own ranch land. Or something like that. The case against the two ranchers sounds to me like another case of the government overstepping its bounds, or at least being heavy-handed in meting out punishment, but that’s another story. The main thing is, I find it upsetting and irritating to hear people rant and rave about Finicum’s “heroism”, his “murder”, and his right to “civil disobedience”. These people are not thinking this through in a logical manner - at least, that's my opinion.
An interview with Lavoy Finicum was posted on Youtube sometime in early January, as I recall. I watched it; Finicum sat with a rifle laid across his knees, and he spoke of resisting the government; he said he had heard there was a warrant for his arrest, but that he would refuse to go to jail. He said he would rather die than be imprisoned “in a cement box”. When pressed by the interviewer as to what actions he might take, he simply repeated, “Anybody comes at me with a gun…they’ll get shot.” Or something along those lines. He was not a particularly articulate man, but it was pretty clear that he was saying that if law enforcement officers tried to arrest him, he would resist, and if they pulled guns on him, he would shoot first.
Weeks later, Finicum and friends left the wildlife refuge building to journey to John Day, a little town some distance away. Law enforcement officers followed them, and indicated in the standard way – via those dreaded flashing lights – that Finicum should pull over to the side of the road. He did. Well, he didn’t really; he stopped, but he wasn’t really “pulled over”. The FBI video, which had no sound, showed the vehicle sitting there in the road for about 10 minutes, I think; it might have been less. A couple of weeks after the FBI video was released, a video taken via cell phone by one of the passengers in the vehicle revealed what was being said. Finicum had his window rolled down, and he kept repeating, “I’m going to see the sheriff. If you want to stop me, go ahead and shoot. Here’s my head. Shoot me if that’s what you gotta do. Go ahead. Shoot me.” Or words to that effect. And then he told his passengers that he was going to make a run for it, and they agreed to go along with his plan.
Finicum drove off at a high rate of speed. A few miles down the road, he encountered a road block, and he careened off the road into the snow bank, narrowly missing one of the officers who was on foot. He exited the vehicle and behaved erratically, moving quickly (though snow impeded his movements), flailing his arms, and appearing to reach for a gun. The cell phone video captured his words, and although I cannot recall now exactly what he said, I know that he did not say, “Don’t shoot; I surrender,” or anything like that.
Seriously, under the circumstances, is it unreasonable that he was shot? He died from his wounds, and now many are calling “foul”. They say he was “murdered”, and that the road block was an “ambush”, and that Lavoy Finicum was a hero for standing up to the government.
But as I said, in my opinion, Lavoy Finicum was not a hero. He acted stupidly, and paid for it with his life. But then, he had said all along that that was his intent.
If Finicum had not fled from the first stop, if he had followed instructions from law enforcement officers at that point, he would no doubt still be alive today. The roadblock at which he was killed cannot possibly have been an ambush: it was there in case Finicum failed to stop (and remain stopped) the first time law enforcement officers pulled him over. He stopped, but failed to comply with officers’ requests, and then fled the scene. Given the comments of his that were made public in the weeks preceding this event, it would have been imprudent of law enforcement agents to assume anything other than that this man was armed and would not hesitate to use his weapon.
There are consequences to our words and actions. In my mind, you don’t jump out of your car and flail your arms around when a cop pulls you over. To do so endangers your own life.
I have heard many continue with the “civil disobedience” theme. It’s our right, they say. And I am not opposed to civil disobedience – not at all. But engaging in “civil disobedience” doesn’t mean you occupy a federal building and expect there to be no consequences. Civil disobedience doesn't mean you can't or won’t be arrested and have to pay the price for breaking the law; the risk (in many cases, the certainty) of being arrested is what makes the action heroic. Think of pro-lifers Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner. They protested outside abortion clinics; they were arrested; they were told they could not engage in that behavior; they followed their consciences and repeated their actions; they were arrested again…and again…and again. However, they did not resist being arrested. They remained within the law, however unfair the law was. If more people followed their example by praying in front of abortion clinics and getting arrested, a difference might be made in those laws. But, again, that’s another story.
There are many things going on within our government today that are disturbing, but that doesn’t mean that every single law enforcement officer is out to get every single one of us every time. Finicum made a couple of big mistakes (e.g., not complying at the first stop; then exiting the vehicle and racing around like a madman at the barricade), and it cost him his life. To make that the fault of OSP or the FBI is wrong. Finicum chose to act the way he did, and there were consequences. For him, the consequence became eternal sooner than anyone expected.
Finicum was not Catholic; he was Mormon. He did not have the benefit of Catholic moral teaching to guide him. And regardless of his religious convictions, he did not die heroically trying to do something for God. I find it terrifying to imagine what Finicum may have heard from the judgment seat of God at the moment of his death. I cannot imagine that it was happy news. On the other hand, how many of us will have a favorable initial judgment?! Not too many! Thank God for His mercy. Thank God for the opportunity we Catholics have to confess our sins and to amend our lives. If we do that often, it helps us to turn from our sins, to avoid repeating our past mistakes, and to move forward in life with the grace of God helping us to lead holy lives. For many people, though, that’s a big “if”, these days. Catholics don't always go to confession as often as they should.
I try to think more about my sins every time I think about or see a news article about Finicum. He was surely following his conscience, but he was wrong in his actions. As Catholics, we can know better than Finicum how to correctly form our consciences, but we will almost certainly still make mistakes. And so confession gives us the opportunity to receive absolution, but also to receive a bit of counseling from a priest who perhaps can illuminate the errors in our thinking.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.