A Shakedown by Any Other Name


Gary Gibson, of Raleigh , North Carolina , is a criminal, according to the Raleigh Police Department. Why? Did he rob, rape, or murder someone? Did he, perhaps, burn someone's house down or abduct a child? No, Gary Gibson is a criminal because he refuses to hire an off-duty police officer to patrol his nightclub's parking lot, contrary to a city ordinance that 'requires any business with a capacity greater than 99 that offers 'amplified entertainment' to post a sworn officer over the parking area . . . from 8 p.m. until one hour past closing,' according to this story in the Raleigh News & Observer.

Gibson had, for some time, given in to what he correctly terms a 'shakedown' by hiring an officer at $30 an hour. Finally he got fed up with the scam and told the off-duty cop to beat it. Shortly thereafter, he was charged with a misdemeanor.

Other businesses that have submitted to the shakedown have found themselves in trouble when their boys in blue failed to show up for work. To prevent this from happening in the future, they now pay anywhere from $100 to $400 a month as a 'scheduling fee' to have a police lieutenant schedule off-duty officers to patrol their parking lots. Police administrators say this kind of banana republic practice is just fine because 'the coordination takes time and effort.'

Gibson 'says clubs should decide their own security needs.'

What's the matter with this guy? Where does he think he lives, America , the land of the free? He needs to get with the program.

Now one might think that this issue could be resolved rather simply: Have the city council repeal the ordinance (they're thinking about modifying it but not eliminating it), and the problem is solved. Ah, but one would be quite mistaken! This would only rid Raleigh of its most egregious and blatant example of government shakedowns. The rest, to which most people gladly subscribe, would still remain.

Think about it. In this case the city is explicitly requiring certain people to pay police officers for specific protection, whether or not the persons required to pay desire the protection or are even provided said protection. How, pray tell, is that any different from the way the police department normally operates? Everyone is forced to pay taxes to support the police department, which in turn is supposed to protect the people who are paying the cops' wages; and anyone who refuses to shell out the bucks to the city is charged with a crime, namely, resisting (legalized) theft.

Furthermore, what happens if the cops fail to protect an individual from criminals? The answer is: nothing. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have held that the government is under no obligation whatsoever to protect any particular individual, despite the fact that said individual was forced to pay the government with an implicit guarantee of precisely this sort of protection in return. If that isn't a shakedown, I don't know what is.

In fact, this is how government at all levels and in all jurisdictions operates. The people in charge tell the rest of us that they will protect us from sundry evils, including burglars, serial killers, polluters, bigots, greedy corporations, uncaring employers, and even 'global warming''and all we have to do is pony up the cash to pay for it. Should anyone refuse the government's protection, he will shortly find himself in the dock for failing to pay his 'fair share.'

What's more, if that same government then fails to protect an individual taxpayer'as, for example, the U.S. government did for some 3,000 people on 9/11'not only will no one in the government be disciplined or fired for the failure, the individuals failed by the government will not receive a refund for the protection money they have paid. Instead, the government will demand more power, and then more money to exercise its newfound power'and woe to anyone who points out the irony of the situation!

In short, the government is one big protection racket, differing from a Mafia protection racket only in that government's protection racket is legal (since the government makes it so by fiat). If anything, it's worse than a Mafia protection racket because if a Mob boss went around collecting protection money from businesses and then had those same businesses shot up'or allowed them to be shot up'anyway, the business owners would, quite sensibly, stop paying the protection money. With government's protection racket, on the other hand, people are stuck paying the protection money whether or not they are actually protected'and paying more of it, in fact, when they are not protected.

To make matters worse, whereas most people can readily see a Mob protection racket for what it is, and many can see the Raleigh Police Department's nightclub protection racket for what it is'despite the department's assertion that 'the ordinance was not created and isn't used to give cops jobs' but to ensure the safety of club patrons and the surrounding community'they fail to recognize government's protection racket in general for what it is. As a matter of fact, most people take pride in their government's law enforcement agencies and military and look askance at anyone who dares to criticize them in general terms. Oh, sure, pointing out specific abuses is permitted, but to consider those abuses part of a more general pattern of government malfeasance is to invite charges of being a kook and/or an extremist. (See: Abu Ghraib, home of 'a few bad apples.')

Perhaps we need more cities to pass Raleigh-style ordinances. Despite the best efforts of local governments and their kept journalists, a significant number of people would recognize these shakedowns for what they are. Then, perhaps, they might use their (mostly government-school-lobotomized) brains and connect this specific shakedown to the more general shakedown known as government. Maybe they would then come to realize that, while Gary Gibson is right when he says that club owners should be the ones to decide how much security their clubs need and how much they're willing to pay for it, the same applies to all human beings, including individuals, families, churches, social clubs, and businesses.

Everyone should be permitted to hire the amount of security he believes meets his needs at the price that meets his pocketbook, and he should be able to fire his security provider if he decides he no longer needs the provider or if the provider fails to protect him and his property. No one, by the same token, ought to be forced to give up his hard-earned money to the protection racket called government, in return for no guarantee of protection, interminable and exorbitant fee hikes, and the inability to fire the government or even reduce the amount of money and power delegated to the government.

The government likes to score front-page headlines with its indictments of Mafia dons and, by extension, the end of their protection rackets. Isn't it about time freedom lovers everywhere made some headlines of their own? Let's see this on the front page of the New York Times: FREEDOM FIGHTERS SMASH LARGEST-EVER ORGANIZED CRIME RING. ALL GOVERNMENT ABOLISHED. For once it might be worth buying a newspaper.

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Michael Tennant's picture
Columns on STR: 30

Michael Tennant is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.