The Mean Streets and Private Police

A community fires its police force for private security. Is this a manifestation of freedom?

Article on The Blaze

When considering this question, I asked myself a different query than I think most libertarians might: How well might this work out in South Central Los Angeles? It is a tough place full of racial tension and strife. For fans of trivia it may interest you to know that Los Angeles is the 10th most segregated city in the US.

Racial Segregation
The blue dots are South Central.

In South Central one ethic group, the majority of the residents, rent their homes and apartments and do not find a lot of local jobs.  All of the stores in the area are run by another exclusive ethnic group (green dots) that treats the residents like they are less than human.  They hire only family and treat their captive customer base like dog shit.

Yet another ethnic group (pink dots) owns nearly all of the property and manages it through companies. Off in the distance, a mega-city city council manages all of the services, including police that treat the neighborhood as a training ground. Every couple of decades the locals raize the place in defiance to oppression, some injustice sparking the ever drying tinder. Like the chaparral in the hollywood hills, South Central has to burn when the dead wood stacks too high. People ask, “how can they burn their own homes? How can they rob the stores they shop in?” They have never lived in South Central or in a rent only neighborhood. They have never shopped in stores that transact with you only though an inch of Plexiglas.

How does a neighborhood like this do a damn thing about private security? That is the real problem we are dealing with. I think that the fact that these people are used as an anti-paragon, held up as the dregs of society is really profitable for a lot of people. These people have no political influence. Who is going to give them the clout to determine their own policing?

Private Police on the Mean Streets

I thought about the effects. If private policing could take hold in South Central, it would be tremendous. If local residents hired security for the neighborhood there would be a major challenge at least at first. I believe the real challenge would be to keep neighborhoods from seeking to hire a company affiliated with one group of “local entrepreneurs” and then used as a tool against rival “business interests”.

I think that it could be possible. If the neighborhoods were small enough, and the security firms held to the law, I think that graft or aggression would balance out very quickly. Perhaps the role for government police would be oversight of the actions of the firms. That might be a huge savings all around but I still think we miss the point.

Even if this libertarian utopia could exist in South Central, who would let them? I think that there is a multi-headed powerful interest for keeping the area, oppressed, pissed off, poor and consuming massive quantities of bad ideas in a bottle or bag. I think that there is a powerful political interest in keeping the area dangerous and the residents frightened and the HUD dollars flowing. I think that there is also an unfortunate and shameful racially biased feeling of self righteousness derived from the situation perpetuated by ethnic groups that identify the residents as less than human. They exploit their misery with a relish of satisfaction.

Privatization does not Equate to Freedom

While these wealthy folk in a gated community have the pleasure of tossing off their local police; and certainly enjoying a freer lifestyle than most, how could our brothers and sisters in a place like South Central ever hope to be able to secede from the city of Los Angeles? Self determination? Not for these people, forget it.

In autocratic nations the privileged always have their own protection. This private police force is not an ideal of Capitalism, it isn’t a manifestation of freedom either, freedom that has to be bought isn’t freedom, it is Fascism.

  1. Private policing – meaning cooperative policing – is certainly possible in places like South Central, but as you note is not politically feasible in the political and social system being imposed there. In fact the various gangs operating in repressed areas represent an ad hoc form of private policing, although not a very enlightened form. Libertarians might advocate for community-based policing reforms in various ways. But at root is the preference for property rights over personal rights, which is why I prefer to advocate for freedom from the so-called libertarian left: the only inviolable property right is ownership of one’s self. All other moral property rights arise by mutual consent within communities. Thus, when a community of impoverished persons takes up residence on property claimed by others and is systematically repressed by a property rights system enforced by a different community, the repression will not end until the impoverished community by operation of mutual consent sets up its own legal and policing system that can displace the system being externally imposed.

    1. Is there a path to organizing a small block of people then, to perhaps claim ownership of their community, and challenge land ownership? What are the legal pathways of such an action other than uprising?

      If a small section of Los Angeles wanted to leave the city, what is the legal pathway for that I wonder?

      1. Those are very good questions that I do not know the answer to. I don’t see why that (a) some form of security/justice cooperative could not be organized pursuant to California law to operate in a local area or (b) that some portion of the City of LA could not secede. Of those possibilities, (a) seems the more feasible initially, not that it would be easy. On challenging land ownership, perhaps the currently most feasible legal pathway would be condemnation in favor of some public purpose – not a topic I know much about, but if LA can condemn property to serve their urban development plans and developer interests, why shouldn’t a local cooperative be a beneficiary? If a locally-controlled cooperative gained traction, it might lead to enabling (b). (B) might get messy due to the entrenched water rights held by LA city. All of this warrants further consideration, I think. Detroit may be a better testing ground than LA for this sort of thing, I wonder.

    1. @ancap Nice 🙂 I am not finding municipal services on their website. I did find law enforcement training. Do you hve a more pointed source of this service from them. I would love to have a solid example of a private municipal constable force to draw from for my education efforts!

    1. Thanks @ancap. As it happens those are the same guys that the other article also lauded from I think the same press release 🙂 The neighborhood is gated. We know it can be done. But how, my friend, can we make it so other people in our society can have it too? NOt just the rich ones. Because when rich people have private and poor people have only government, then we have trouble.

      I know and respect the standard answer, “We take taxes out of people’s way, and stop entitlements including free constables; it emerges.” How do we identify the actual mechanic of making it happen. I will agree that system will be emergent, but what systems? What do the private solutions look like as next steps to change it? What should freedom lovers be doing on the other side of the equation to make it happen by providing replacements.

      I think, maybe, we need to buy a few blocks in South Central and put it to the test. 🙂

  2. Here is a video of Threat Management working in Detroit. 20 year track record. The other 2 segments of that Detroit series are cool too.

    Question: If people clean up the area, by whatever means, do you expect it will become a more desirable location? If so with then with the increased feeling of safety and improved services from the city do you expect demand to live there to increase and therefore rent to also increase? In what ways will that impact the current residents?

    I agree with @voluntarylawguy‘s comment that there are gangs acting in an “enforcement” role. Probably several gangs with their own jurisdictions. You are up against the city & it’s police plus any, ahem “ad-hoc” interests and then also apathetic residents. Why not vote with your feet? If most everyone is a renter then what is holding them there aside from possibly very cheap rent (due to the crappy conditions overall which includes gangs and lackluster police among other services).

    1. I think that it is easy to understand what is holding them there.

      It takes a moment to reflect on a whole new perspective. People who are corralled like this in a ghetto, walls or no, are blocked in by a lack of perspective. This is an oppressed group with a damn good reason to be living in a siege mentality. Los Angeles cops are not nice to black people when they leave their assigned neighborhoods. That is just the way it is.

      Many people living like this only can travel from enclave to enclave. Everywhere else they go, walking down the street in broad daylight can mean a long prison sentence. You have probably never had to experience anything like this. It is going to be hard for you to understand the deep level of depression and narrowness of vision that oppressed people feel.

      Instead of walls, our ghettos have gangs and cops that are trained on how to keep them in their place… literally.

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