Catherine Parker
Catherine Parker

Perfect state or police state?

One of the things that has been hard for me to get used to about living in the US is the feeling of being policed at every turn. Here, my life is filled with a multitude of rules and regulations, along with a strong presence of law enforcement officials to make sure that I follow them. Of course there are obvious advantages to a society like this. Things run smoothly and efficiently. There is less corruption and bribery. I feel safe. On the flip side though, I feel like I the price of this increased efficiency and safety is that I relinquish a certain degree of personal freedom.

As a South African, I’m used to having more leeway, simply because back home there aren’t as many rules, and they aren’t policed with nearly as much vigor as they are here. Take a minor thing like parking. In San Francisco, there are a thousand things you need to think about when parking your car. Do you have a permit to park in this particular residential zone? What colour is the pavement? Are you parked out of street cleaning hours, in front of a fire hydrant, or on a street corner? Are your wheels are turned inwards if you’re parked on an incline? Is there more than enough money in the meter? Even if all these rules were in place back home, I think I’d have about a 60% chance of getting away with at least one of them. Here, there’s no question about whether you will get caught or not. A friend of mine recently parked her car outside her house, unwittingly blocking wheelchair access between the pavement and the street. Returning to her car ten minutes later, she was greeted with a $300 fine.

And that’s just parking. There are fines for jaywalking ($300), littering ($1000) and driving in a carpool lane when there are less than three people in the car ($300). If you get caught driving over the legal alcohol limit, this fact stays on your employment record permanently and affects your credit rating. Undercover cops regularly visit liquor stores, supermarkets and bars to check that they aren’t serving alcohol to minors. There are lots of rules for even the smallest details, and they’re all heavily enforced.

The consequence of not being able to get away with much is that the high probability of being punished for breaking the law outweighs the perceived benefits. This can be said for more serious crimes too, such as theft and assault. Of course there are other major reasons for the low crime rate here — the gap between the rich and the poor here is smaller, unemployment is lower and there are fewer people living below the poverty line — but still, the tangible presence of the police on a day to day basis surely must discourage potential criminals. And let’s not forget that one percent of all Americans are in jail, which means that criminals simply aren’t free to walk the streets.

Living in this law-abiding society, where even the most minor rule is followed, at times I feel like I am a sheep that’s being closely watched and herded through a very narrow pen. I miss not having to think so hard about where to park, or being able to cross the road wherever I like, or not having to carry my ID with me whenever I go to a bar or supermarket. The positives, though, are obvious. There are fewer road accidents, and hardly any road deaths as a result of drunk driving. I can walk home at night by myself and things will probably be ok, and I have just a single lock on my door with no need for electric fences, lasers or panic buttons.

Perhaps the key is to find a balance of these two extremes; to live in a place that runs smoothly and where I feel safe, but that is still somewhere where I don’t feel stifled and over-regulated. I suspect that unless I don’t live in a city at all, that search will be a challenge.

  • Lulu

    @ Karin

    Please explain to me your statement:
    “…if you come from South Africa.”

    What, exactly, is so different in South Africa from the US, in YOUR OWN OPINION, seeing that you feel you know both sides of the coin? I’m referring to your statement of ‘nanny state …vs.. if you come from South Africa”. To ensure I’m not confusing the question:
    How is South Africa different from a ‘nanny state’?

    And refer to my previous question, if it was posted: ‘What exactly do you mean by ‘nanny state’? ‘

  • Consulting Engineer

    @Yvonne Mcdam

    I like your style! Great idea! Repay the flood of mexican illegals by sending them back white liberals!

    Hmmm. Given the choice I ould prefer the mexicans.


    I hope you are right. SA has broken down but we are still not spared the drivel from the white liberals who brought about this downfall in the first place. many appear to have been spared the awakening and continue on promoting the path that has led to this situation.

  • jcmca


    Yes, the three cases I talked about really happened. I used to dream of the same things that most folks dream about – my own home, nice things for the kids, a comfortable retirement, but these days I find it harder and harder to disregard thoughts of vigilantism and revenge. I know it is wrong, and karma will set things right, but I feel cheated that I won’t be able to enjoy the thrill as I now have to suffer the pain.

    @Consulting Engineer

    Yep – the mindless liberals are the ones that always seem to have the ways and means of abandoning the mess they have caused. Like flies, they land on a good thing, spread their germs and then move on to the next.

    The situation in the USA presently is on a knife edge. Can you imagine if the WAY liberal Obama becomes president? Can you imagine the likes of his hatred spewing pastors, Jesse Jackson and the other America hating liberal lowlifes being installed as heads of government? Little Ms SugarBritches will have all the SA type crime she can handle on her doorstep in San Fransisco quicker than she can grab her designer handbag and sunglasses and hit the airport running.

    It is quite clear that Ms Parker isn’t in favor of what you blindly label a ‘nanny state’. Anyone older than 5 could determine inflection of her writingAs someone else above pointed out, the mindset in SA is that the rules aren’t there for you personally, but for everyone else, and it is obvious that she also has that mindset. If it wasn’t a priority for her to try dodging the parking meters, and other points of civilized society, she wouldn’t keep her eyes peeled for the police all the time, and she wouldn’t notice them. People constantly breaking the law need to know where the law is to be able to raise the odds of them not getting caught, so if she was law abiding, why would she have this paranoid awareness of them? It is the fact that she can’t get away with all her kak in a law abiding soceity that burns her ass.

    In my personal opinion on the crime in SA, all the creeps that run the show now were all a bunch of crims when there was an effective police force in SA, and now they have disabled that vital social tool for the benefit of their comrades. Hell, what a great way to affect redistribution of wealth without having to legislate it!

    What I find saddest about this whole article is that Ms Parker has nothing better to write about. If you want to be a writer, write in a manner that will be constructive to our civilization. Don’t follow the African model where everything is torn down to the lowest common denominator. After all – I bet that is why you left…

  • Scott

    Try Philly. It has all the peacefulness and charm of Joburg as well as the ultraviolent anarchistic criminality of San Fran. You can park anywhere but in front of a fire hydrant, cross any street at any point in any block but should expect to be run over if you do it stupidly, and you won’t be mugged, murdered or raped unless you cross one of the well known but unofficial borders that separate our various and respective “group areas” into one where you should just know that you “don’t belong.” Feel free to bribe our public officials and “pay to play.”

  • Ellie

    I am sorry Katherine is unhappy with her situation in SanFransisco. My American born and raised daughter has moved to SA with her SA boyfriend. I pray every day that she returns before she is stabbed, shot, robbed, or raped. He believes in the future of SA and wants to stay there. Reading the exchanges in these posts have been enlightening.

  • Consulting Engineer


    Although I feel the same as your daughter’s boyfriend, and will never leave, I also wish my daughter leaves before the same happens to her.

    I also pray that your daughter is returned to you intact. Her boyfriend is still young and has a God given opportunity to leave (if he can get papers for the USA). He would be foolish to put his selfish interests first. He needs to think of his future children.

    Being a parent in SA means facing the sad prospect that you want your children around, want to stay in your homeland that the volk have long lived and died for, want it to be a place for your future generations, yet you must also consider that for their survival, maybe it is best they should go.