Just over 30 years ago (12Feb78), the Government of South Africa decided not to pursue an investigation into the death of Steven Biko.
For those of you less than 30 years old, Steven Biko was a prominent opponent to the South African policy of apartheid (an Afrikaans word roughly translated as segregation). The South African Government officially divided the population of the country into distinct groups: White, Black, Colored, and Indian. As is usual with such stupidities, all groups were not treated equally. Whites held all of the power and most of the wealth and land. Everyone else was treated as a second-class citizen (at best). Laws were enacted and ruthlessly enforced to preserve the White monopoly on power.
This is an old story, and not unique to Africa. One group fears losing its power and becomes increasingly oppressive to anyone who threatens that power. The list of those who might threaten that power rapidly grows to include all of the population not actually in the Government. Increasingly draconian measures are needed to keep the population in check, and those subject to the Government’s rule grow increasingly rebellious in response. Oppression is generally a losing game for the oppressors, because eventually the entire population becomes part of the oppressed group. People who otherwise might tolerate the Government’s actions find themselves legitimately fearful of falling victim to those actions.
Steven Biko started several political organizations in South Africa- all of them vocal opponents of apartheid. This made Biko very unpopular with the Government. He was Banned- which meant he was legally forbidden to leave his home district, talk to more than one person at a time, or make speeches. Quoting anything he said- even casual conversations- was also against the law. Despite the Ban, Biko started several grass-roots organizations in his home district, mostly dedicated to helping the families of political prisoners and promoting self-reliance among the non-White population of the country.
In 1976, Black students in Soweto starting protesting against Government requirements that only English and Afrikaans were to be taught in schools. The protests grew violent as the police arrived to “restore order”. The majority of the protesters were marching peacefully, but a few were throwing stones at the police. A police unit was surrounded, and the shooting started. The protesters began rioting, destroying bars and beer halls and attacking the police- and every other White they could find. This led to a well-known White doctor who had devoted his life to promoting social welfare among Blacks getting stoned to death by the mob. In all, 23 people were killed.
Biko was tied to one of the organizations which had started the protests, so the Government focused its attention on him. He was arrested at a roadblock in August of 1977, and charged under the Terrorism Act. This law- passed a decade earlier- broadly defined “terrorism” as any act which might endanger law and order. Under those rules, Biko was deemed a terrorist and treated as such.
While in police custody, Biko suffered severe head injuries. He died of those injuries while being transported (naked, in the back of a land rover) 1,200 kilometers to Pretoria. The Government claimed he had died during a hunger strike. Once pictures of his beaten body were made public by Biko’s friends, the Government claimed he had inflicted the injuries on himself during a suicide attempt.
Nobody was buying the Government’s line anymore, and Biko’s death galvanized public opinion around the world against the South African government. 16 years after deciding that Biko had beaten his own head in, the South Africa Government finally gave up apartheid.
What’s the point of re-visiting this horrible bit of history, you ask?
In reply, I ask, “How many other Steven Bikos have been killed by their Governments without being noticed?”
Four boxes. There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty. In order, those boxes are: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo.
Steven Biko had been using the first two boxes, and his Government decided that it didn’t want to listen to him anymore. He was handcuffed in a cell and beaten to death by the police because the Government didn’t like what he had to say.
In the United States, most of us have been incredibly lucky. Most Americans do not get imprisoned and murdered by the police. But some of us have. I say, “us“, because we are all Americans. Injustice to any of us is injustice to all of us. The law is supposed to be blind. Everyone should be treated equally under the law. Whenever the faint odor of corruption wafts its way into our collective noses, we have a duty to root it out. Anything less is injustice. Worse, it is suicide.
Our Government has once again decided that certain people in this country no longer have the same rights as everyone else. Some people have more rights (elected officials, rich people, celebrities, etc), and some people have fewer rights (anyone with a relative in Saudi Arabia, for just one example). The Government tells everyone else, “Don’t worry dear. It’s for your own good. We’re just protecting you from Bad People. National Security, and all that.”
Am I the only one who detects the disagreeable odor of bullshit?
There is a procedure for dealing with this sort of issue. There is a special court set up for the purpose of getting warrants for eavesdropping on people or organizations deemed dangerous to the country. It’s called FISA- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under FISA, the Government can present its case to a judge, who decides whether or not to issue a warrant to permit surveillance, searches, and spying in the interest of National Security. In my opinion, this is the best choice of a bad set of options for protecting National Security and the right of the people to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure.
That’s not good enough for the Gummint. The Government wants the authority to spy on anyone, anywhere, anytime- without even the tiny degree of oversight provided by a FISA court.
The Government is already swollen with power. I see no need to furnish the tax-fattened hyenas who infest the Logic-Free Zone with any more tools with which to subjugate We (the People).
We’re back to the four boxes.
I’m using the first box right now. I’m calling on every American with the power to do so to make use of the second box. Find out how your elected representatives voted on the so-called warrantless wiretap legislation. Every single one of the political asshats who voted in favor of this lunacy should be told by his or her constituents to say goodbye to the halls of power. Vote against every last one of them. Forever. If your Congresscritter voted in favor of this law and was running for re-election against Mickey Mouse, you’d be better off voting for the cartoon character. Having a vacant office on Capitol Hill would be better than permitting power-hungry fuckwits to scissor away at our rights.
The Constitution of the United States is chock-full of rules designed to prevent the Government from becoming too powerful. We (the People) need to get back to the philosophy that Government cannot be trusted with power and money. We already know that giving money and power to Government is like giving a teenaged boy a case of beer and the keys to a Corvette. Both are recipes for disaster.
Back to those four boxes. If the first two boxes aren’t enough to limit the power of the Government, take the bastards to court. Public servants are supposed to serve the public, remember? We are the public. Hold the stupid bastards accountable for their actions- today. Tomorrow. Forever. Refuse to put up with the bullshit. Sue the motherfuckers!
We (the People) need to remember what happened to Steven Biko. We need to remember why it happened. It happened because the Government was allowed to get too powerful. We (the People) need to use those first three boxes to trim the Government down to a manageable size- often. It’s cheaper and easier- on every level- to spend the time and money and sweat to keep the Government responsible to the People than to resort to the fourth box.
If we ever let things get to the point where we have to use that fourth box, the United States of America would cease to exist. We’d go the way of Yugoslavia. Internecine warfare. Ethnic cleansing. Genocide. Those are all Bad Things.
I’m just optimistic enough to think that America is still a Good Thing. So let’s keep it that way. Speak out. Vote. Sue, if necessary.
Current status: Somber
Current music: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by the Pogues