4 Lessons From Ferguson

Ferguson protests

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The grand jury trial of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has come and gone. Predictably, a police officer is getting off scot free despite murdering an unarmed teenager (check out a prior post regarding the police “license to kill”). If you want to catch yourself up about the events surrounding the case, check out The Intercept’s thorough account here.

The events in Ferguson can provide Americans with numerous interesting lessons, particularly about the evolution of our burgeoning police state, and the steps that people should be taking right now to protect themselves.

 

Political Action Changes Nothing

After Michael Brown was gunned down in the street on August 9, 2014, there was a very noticeable public backlash to the rapidly advancing militarization of local police forces in America.

A whole slew of articles were published in mainstream publications decrying what we civil libertarians have been bringing up for years: the increased militarization of police forces, largely a consequence of the drug war, is helping to wither away the purported freedom that we have as Americans.

A national discussion regarding the Pentagon’s 1033 program that gives away military surplus weapons and vehicles to local police departments across the country began (with an explicit obligation to use those weapons within one year or be forced to give them back). Obama has even called for a multiagency review of the program, and a bill to put restrictions on (but not eliminate) these federal transfers was penned. But what has come of all this? Nothing.

Of course, this is not the least bit surprising. It’s been a year and a half since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance of innocent Americans. Despite a large public outcry, nothing has happened on that front either.

In other words, despite having wide public awareness and proof of almost unfathomable government wrong-doing, political avenues for change have failed to do anything.

This is because democracy in America is a sham; in reality, a handful of wealthy oligarchs and special interests decide how the coercive levers of government should be employed. Popular opinion holds very little sway over government behavior. The fact that people actually believe in the utopian system that is called democracy is beyond me.

The events in Ferguson should make it clear beyond all doubt to a wider audience of Americans that we are living under occupation, and we have no say in matters that have a huge impact on our lives. Rest assured, despite the media interest and some light discussion in Congress, one year from now the advance of police militarization will have continued unabated. Ten teenagers have already been shot (and five killed) by Chicago police since Michael Brown was killed, and yet there is no interest in these attacks. We can reasonably expect the body count to pile up, but the media, the politicians, and the US public will forget about the whole thing.

 

Divide and Conquer is a Major Method of Social Control

Ferguson also provides a brilliant window into the idea that governments retain control of the population using the classic strategy of “divide and conquer”. As is frequently the case nowadays, racial incitement is one of the primary means of dividing people who would otherwise share a common interest.

While I wouldn’t claim that the whole Ferguson fiasco was a staged event, it is pretty clear that the powers that be have used the Ferguson situation to secure a PR advantage using principles of divide and conquer. From the beginning, this case has been framed as an issue of race – a white cop shooting a black citizen. Go ahead and do a Google search on Ferguson. You’ll see that, aside from a number of articles about police militarization in mid-August, nearly all the coverage of these events is primarily about race.

It may be true that the shooting was racially motivated, but this is of secondary importance; the significant act was that of a police officer shooting a civilian in general. And yet police officers have shot several thousand innocent civilians over the past decade (many instances of which were white cops shooting black people), and numerous after Michael Brown’s death. Yet these cases receive little to no public attention. Why?

Already we can see how the media and its focus on race is being used as a way to advocate for even greater social control and entrenchment of the state apparatus. Take this article from The Economist, which is largely about the lack of “racial harmony” in America and how black people feel marginalized, using Ferguson as evidence. Here are some of the author’s proposed solutions:

“Smaller cities should stop using their police forces and courts as tax-collectors. Police shootings should be taken much more seriously, and the federal government should stop enabling small police forces to buy military-grade weapons. Proper gun control laws would help: policemen who fear they will be shot are more likely to kill suspects. In their absence, body-mounted cameras might constrain police behaviour.

Efforts should also be made to increase voter turnout. Ferguson, like many small cities, holds its municipal elections at odd times in odd-numbered years, when little else is on the ballot. If they coincided with national elections, more people would be paying attention. And attempts to restrict voting—by banning Sunday polls, restricting voting hours and requiring people to produce ID—should be resisted.”

The appeals to greater police accountability are certainly well founded, but the gun control comment is a laughable instance of blaming the victim, and voter turnout is irrelevant. Notice how the focus on race makes it easy to distract from the core issue – police brutality – and redirect the reader’s attention to enhancing democracy and increasing government control.

I want to clarify that I’m in no way claiming that racism isn’t a problem, but rather that it is being deliberately used to foster a specific agenda. Racial tensions are deliberately spun into a narrative that suits elite interests. Rather than being an issue of over-militarized police being an occupying army, the whole thing amounts to racism. Racism is something we are all used to hearing about and know is going on, so we no longer need to ask the tough questions about police use of force in general. Instead, it is a specifically racist phenomenon.

At this point, it is easier to direct and control peoples’ anger. In fact, the rioting that has taken place in Ferguson may ultimately be used to increase public approval of police state tactics. From the linked article (emphasis in the original):

“The Ferguson saga will be nationally remembered as a police officer using justified force to remove a bad guy from the streets using textbook self-defense. The public will remember that people rallied behind a robber, bemoaned police brutality with little to no evidence, then burned their own city to the ground. Ferguson will be pointed out as a reason why police should be decked out with armored vehicles and elaborate measures to disperse crowds.

From a purely consequential perspective, Ferguson was a gift to supporters of the police state — wrapped and tied with a bow.  While a legitimate case against police brutality can certainly be made, its presentation in Ferguson was an utter failure. This speaks to the importance of carefully choosing political battles and vetting the evidence before taking action. Unfortunately, in this case, the picking the wrong battle will ultimately leave people biased more toward police power than they were before, and the righteous opponents of actual misconduct will be lumped in with violent maniacs who have no respect for the rights of others.”

Amidst speculation that perhaps the chaos we’ve seen in Ferguson is being partly orchestrated or at least allowed to occur by the powers that be, it is clear that the behavior of the rioters and looters goes a long way toward discrediting those who want to reduce police powers.

 

Social Stability is Very Tenuous in America Right Now

In Ferguson, a suburb of just over 20,000 people, the streets descended into chaos less than 24 hours after the shooting of Michael Brown.

Something like this can happen anywhere, anytime. Clearly, you need not be living in a big city in order to see the social fabric dissolve into chaos. While significant “black swan” events are always possible, I would argue that the social structure of modern America is making societal collapse increasingly likely.

When I talk about societal collapse, I don’t mean to claim that there will be a zombie apocalypse level breakdown of society. For the people and business owners of Ferguson, it was irrelevant that there wasn’t major looting all across the US. What mattered is that there was civil unrest where they live. Most people haven’t dealt with serious unrest (I sure haven’t) and imagine it to be impossible, but Ferguson is proof positive that we are all at risk.

Historically, race has been a significant factor in riots in the US. And I don’t expect race-baiting to die down anytime soon. The underlying racial tensions in America are a tinder that could catch fire at any moment and lead to widespread chaos.

But race is only one part. In my opinion, the economy will be the main driver of unrest over the coming years. Given the insane behavior that we witness every Black Friday, just imagine the chaos that would ensue if there was more at stake than a cheap TV. If people are willing to trample and be trampled for some cheap Christmas gifts, it’s scary to picture what will happen when people are experiencing food shortages, blackouts, or serious inflation.

Ferguson is certainly an instructive preview of these types of events for most of us, but it is not the only one. Remember what happened in Atlanta during last winter’s crazy snow storm? The inconvenience of several days without power was enough to have people pulling guns on each other over basic supplies and ransacking grocery stores. If there were an event that led to unrest for more than just a few days, the chaos would have been far more serious and far more widespread.

Perhaps even more instructive is what happened when there was a glitch in the EBT system (food stamps) that caused it to go down for a few hours. Chaos ensued at Wal-Marts and other establishments that cater to food stamp users.

What happens if people stop receiving their welfare payments? What happens when the trillions of dollars of money that have been created out of thin air over the past few years start circulating? Or when productive Asian countries stop buying US debt and start competing with American consumers to purchase American goods and services? Or if hackers take down the banking system or the electrical grid?

It as a question of when, not if, the US will go into default. When this happens, you can expect the 50 million Americans with EBT cards and over 100 million who collect some government benefits to be very hungry and very angry. Societal decay is already evident (see here), and mass poverty certainly isn’t going to help.

A clear implication of all this is that we should take steps to be prepared for social unrest in America. Now, I’m not exactly a “prepper” and can’t claim to have any authority to advise people on how to prepare for these situations. But I have found what looks to be very solid advice here, and you’d do well to be familiar with it.

And on that note…

 

People Cannot Count on the Police to Protect Them

It is already well established that in US law, police have no duty to protect individual citizens. In other words, if you are in need of assistance, the police are under no obligation to provide it.

While police will occasionally take advantage of this lack of legal obligation under normal circumstances, you’d better believe that police will be useless at best during a time of civil unrest. Of course, providing “law and order” in these kinds of circumstances is one of the primary justifications people have for justifying the existence of a state security apparatus. But when security is really needed, the police are nowhere to be seen.

The situation in Ferguson has made this exceedingly obvious, and I can only hope people will learn this lesson. Back in August, the police did nothing to stop the looting that was occurring at the time, despite being out in force. They were deployed only to quell the nonviolent protests that were happening, and to protect government buildings and assets. Private businesses, on the other hand, have been burned to the ground without a police response, even when specifically asked to help. In fact, local police made statements that Ferguson residents should get guns because the police will not be helping them.

The role of the police is not to protect the rights of the populace; it is to enforce the wishes of the ruling class. Rioters, who nonsensically attacked private businesses which had nothing to do with Michael Brown’s shooting, were allowed to run rampant. Meanwhile, the government gets to do a macho show of force and increase the justification for more militarization.

But the market is a magical thing. As soon as the failure of the government to provide security became evident in Ferguson, peaceful residents took action to protect themselves, without resorting to coercion and violence. Gun sales skyrocketed leading up to the grand jury’s verdict. More significantly, private security organizations have taken a significant role in protecting peoples’ lives and assets.

For instance, gun owners and jewelers have paid contractors to help relocate many of their assets until the chaos blows over. The nearby town of Clayton saw private businesses bringing in a veritable army of private security contractors to protect their assets.

Private security is generally too expensive for most, and is certainly out of reach for the lower income residents of Ferguson (and elsewhere). Of course, these services would be vastly cheaper were it not for the already existing state police forces, but I digress. A volunteer organization called the Oath Keepers has been protecting peoples’ homes and property for free across Ferguson. Well, they had been, until the police stopped them from providing this valuable service.

That just about lays it bare. Volunteers who had come from all over the country to help protect small businesses and homes were threatened with arrest by the very same cops who refused to offer that protection themselves. It’s almost too absurd to believe. But I think that Ryan McMaken’s fake letter from the government about police protection sums it up perfectly (the whole article is short and well worth reading on this subject):

“Dear Citizen, we are going to tax you heavily for a police force that will focus on extracting even more revenue from you, and will exist primarily to harass motorists and other who commit petty traffic infractions. All the while, we will claim we are putting our lives on the line to protect you. But of course, we will do little to recover your stolen property, investigate thieves or those who trespass or destroy property. If you’re a small business owner who has ever had his shop broken into, you know this already. Yes, politics requires that we do investigate rapes and murders, but we’d rather not do that.Those criminals are dangerous! Let’s face it, the police force is a union shop, and is unaccountable to you, the tax payer. The police are mostly concerned with ensuring more and more government spending on huge pensions for police officers who will retire at age 45 and collect $80,000 or $90,000 per year as a retiree. All paid for by you.

You will also pay those police to issue you citations for jaywalking, opening unauthorized lemonade stands, or growing vegetables in your front yard. If you resist, we will shoot you.

Citizen, all this being said, you should know that in case any civil unrest or actual threat to your property, you’re on your own. The Supreme Court has ruled that we have no duty to protect you, and in case of any true conflagration, the police will protect the government’s property and nothing else. Smart people will hire private security for this. If you cannot afford private security, your lack of “protection” is your own fault for not wanting to pay higher taxes.

Have a nice day.”

 

Conclusion

What happened to Michael Brown is a tragedy. Unfortunately, it is a tragedy that occurs all too often.

Until there are radical changes to the way policing works in this country, incidents like this will continue, and likely become even more common. Smart individuals will learn from this experience and take steps to protect themselves.

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Comments

  1. Excellent overview of the Ferguson fiasco.

    This passage says it all:

    “This is because democracy in America is a sham; in reality, a handful of wealthy oligarchs and special interests decide how the coercive levers of government should be employed. Popular opinion holds very little sway over government behavior. The fact that people actually believe in the utopian system that is called democracy is beyond me.”

    • Thanks Bevin! Yeah, that was one of the paragraphs that I felt most strongly about, frankly. Democracy is such an odd thing for people to deify.

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