The last few years have been bad for cops. Accused of brutality and racism by everyone from Anonymous to former President Obama, the men and women in blue suddenly found themselves the whipping boys of a mass media hungry for viewers, and an angry public increasingly frustrated with the repressive American political climate.
On the face of it, the vitriol directed at police is completely irrational. Approximately 40 homicides are committed every day, but the only lives we hear about – seemingly the only ones protesters are outraged about – are the ones taken by cops. Apparently, there’s nothing outrageous about the 12,000+ murders committed by 14,000+ people who are NOT in uniform.
However, looked at in the context of the crumbling American Dream, the police protests make perfect sense, because Cops are the public face of the System. While politicians smile and kiss babies, bureaucrats hide in their offices, and judges play golf with lawyers, cops are on the street, delivering the bad news that America is no longer a free country.
In other words, the American public is “shooting the messenger” – blaming police for the growth of the police state. In truth, though, cops are middlemen: they enforce laws created by legislators by delivering citizens to the judiciary.
Consider this: the town of Ferguson, MO raises approximately $2.5 million annually from a population of 21,000 through municipal court fines and forfeitures. That’s about 20% of the town’s operating budget being raised, not by taxes, but through the courts.
The nearby town of St. Ann, MO is even worse, raising a staggering $9 million – 40% of its budget – from a population of 13,000 people. And these municipalities are not alone. Across the country, cities and towns have discovered that they can raise revenue through traffic cameras (sometimes with fraudulently short yellow lights) and punitive fines and fees. States with high tax rates are now routinely auditing people who move away, forcing them to prove that they have actually severed all ties with the state, and sometimes fraudulently pursuing former residents for taxes they don’t owe.
As the number of municipal bankruptcies rises, this aggressive revenue collection is only getting worse. The issue of Asset Forfeiture recently got some much-needed attention, when HBO personality John Oliver was flabbergasted to discover that US cities routinely confiscate cash and property that is suspected to have been associated in some way with a crime and then make it almost impossible for citizens to retrieve it.
Of course, it’s not just towns and states. The Feds have gotten in on the action, seizing about $4 billion per year, often from completely innocent people. When budgets depend on fines, fees, and forfeiture, guilt or innocence doesn’t matter anymore; all that matters is that the collection targets are met. This is why the US court system proudly reports a 97% conviction rate. Just like in Vegas, the house always wins.
One aspect of this revenue-collection issue that is only now coming to light is the fact that, very often, people can’t afford to pay the court-ordered fines. As a consequence, they are increasingly sent to jail. Most people thought debtor’s prisons went out of style a few centuries ago, but now they’re back in a big way. Once you realize that jail time often causes people to lose their jobs or their professional licenses, you can see how this punitive approach is not only barbaric and immoral, but also completely counter-productive.
In a system that has become this corrupt, honesty is considered a liability. Cops, politicians, bureaucrats, judges and prosecutors who have moral scruples either quit or are fired. All that’s left are “public servants” who are willing to turn a blind eye to systemic abuses, or – worse yet – see them as necessary and appropriate.
The street protests of 2014 & 2015 were focused largely on police racism, but the problem is far larger. Although history does not judge kindly those who defend their actions with the excuse, “I was only following orders,” it is important to understand that police brutality is a symptom, not the disease. For decades, politicians have been making expensive promises in order to win votes, and the bill has now come due. Faced with a legion of voters waiting for their entitlement payments, and a phalanx of bankers waiting for their bond payments, officials – both elected and unelected – see the house of cards collapsing before their eyes. In order to retain power, this army of public employees is blatantly abusing their authority, squeezing every penny they can out of the private sector.
It is a mistake to think that this is a “black problem,” or an “inner city problem.” This is not an ideological issue, it is a financial one. As the government becomes more and more desperate to close its budget gap ($2 trillion just for pensions), its agents will come after every one of us, under whatever pretext they can think of, to grab whatever they can.
This is what it means to live under a “police state.” Not that you might get shot by a cop for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that you have no recourse against the government, no matter what it does to you. You have no rights, because no government court will rule against government agents. All they have to do is call you a terrorist, a drug dealer, a child molester, a money-launderer, or a tax evader, and they don’t have to prove a thing: they can ruin your life, take everything you have, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
The generation of Americans alive today grew up on dystopian fiction like 1984, Brave New World, V for Vendetta, and – more recently, The Matrix films, The Hunger Games books, and the Divergent series. In all these stories, governments ruthlessly oppress the people, and the assumption has generally been that it was because of a simple lust for power. Now we know the truth: it’s about money.
From St. Ann to D.C., government debt, and the relentless transfer of wealth from the private sector to the public sector is the driving force behind repression, corruption and abuse. It was, in fact, the motivation for the first American revolution. Perhaps sooner than anyone expects, it may be the motivation for a second.