Civil Unrest Spells Trouble in America by Ted Baumann, The Sovereign Investor
Cape Town, South Africa – I remember it as if it were yesterday.
The rubber bullets whizzed over our heads. Some struck us down, in the random way bullets do in war movies. Why her, and not me? Dumb luck, I guess.
A yellow police helicopter whirred close overhead. Its blades whipped up the teargas, spreading it around, making it impossible to escape. From the copter’s open door, a policeman made an obscene gesture at us, his other arm resting on a machine-gun barrel.
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Several yards away, I watched a friend receive blows from multiple sjamboks (bullwhips), raking his naked back as he cowered in the no-man’s land between us and the riot squad.
This was their response to our protests — to brutally beat and kill us in order to maintain order. In their minds, we had broken the law by protesting. But the law itself was broken … leaving us little choice.
That is the nature behind civil unrest — and it’s the same kind fueling the antagonism between America’s police and young people in the streets of our cities today.
Irresistible Force, Meet Immovable Object
The South African policemen my peers and I faced down on that day in 1985, and others like it, were utterly convinced of the justice of their actions. After all, they were empowered to enforce the laws of apartheid, and the country’s leaders had ordered them to show no quarter.
We were equally convinced that our cause — democracy and freedom for all — was just, and that relying on the government to make changes voluntarily was futile.
As Thomas Jefferson and other revolutionaries throughout the ages remind us, sometimes the tree of liberty must be watered with a little blood. After all, in the absence of a meaningful voice in one’s governance, the only option is open defiance.
When people feel — rightly or wrongly — that the forces of law and order no longer represent their interests, existing only for their own sake or to benefit the interests of the few, they will inevitably rebel. With no concrete evidence of active reform, no amount of suasion will convince angry people to be patient.
I have seen this with my own eyes. And I’m seeing it again, this time on the television several thousand miles away.
I’ve been watching recent events in New York City, in the aftermath of the murder of two cops by a deranged man, from the unique perspective of the far-off place in Africa where I learned these harsh but valuable lessons. Familiar sights and sounds remind me of the passions that prompted otherwise peaceful people to attack the police, and of the latter’s violent assertion of the absolute right to do whatever they considered necessary in response, legal or not, to uphold “order.”
What worries me isn’t the protests. Those I understand and respect, given the behavior and obscene militarization of American police over the last decade.
What worries me is the mind-set of New York’s police and their supporters. Their assertion of the right to absolute respect for their authority, and demand for immediate, unquestioning compliance with their every order, is the hallmark of a broken society. The fundamental relationship of accountability and social contract between citizen and state is at question. The police and other parts of government are treating us as subjects, not citizens. They claim to do this out of concern for our own best interests, which they apparently know better.
That is the hallmark of incipient fascism.
You Are Not Exempt
Many well-off South Africans in those days assumed they could safely ignore the rising tension between young people and the militarized state. They considered themselves to be neither responsible for what the protesters were bringing on themselves nor in any personal danger.
They were wrong on both counts. The rapid deterioration of “law and order” — largely on the side of the government and police — ultimately destroyed any chance that South Africa could be a prosperous, safe place to raise a family, run a business, and enjoy one’s wealth. Things had to get much worse before they got better.
Many such people — such as my friends at the University of Cape Town in the late ‘80s — had the good fortune to be closely linked to the United Kingdom or other European countries by ancestry. As such, they were able to obtain second passports and make their escape. Even though many ultimately returned to enjoy the country South Africa was to become, they fled when circumstances and prospects became unbearable.
How long before America reaches the same point? I don’t know. But I do know that the time to look for other options offshore has come.
After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor