handmaiden of segregation

Peace Officers

Why do we care what happens in Ferguson, Missouri? Because on some level we recognize that if any one group or community can be officially deprived of their human and civil rights without restraint, then it can happen to any other group or neighborhood. Sea Island, Georgia is proof.

Sea Island, Georgia has been turned into an exclusive neighborhood. Random visitors are turned away at a guarded gate and even residents driving off the island must pause and wait for the barricade to rise and let their vehicle pass unscratched. Presumably, pedestrians can leave unchallenged. Though, people on foot are universally suspect in the car culture that is the U.S. Only less so when they are walking away. To be really safe, it’s best to be running and barely dressed.

Michael Brown in Ferguson was obviously wearing too many clothes and, equally obviously, not a jogger. So, there was no excuse for him being in the middle of the street — just an opportunity for him to be stopped and questioned by an officious and suspicious public servant, who, proving unable to exit his cage with grace and the efficiency required by his position, made himself an object of sport. Then the wanton pedestrians, rubbing salt into wounded pride, instead of being compliant, lodged a complaint, adding insult to injury. A just cause for revenge. Insult has long been that.

Private Entrance Gate at Sea Pines, GACan we imagine a similar scenario for Sea Island? Not likely. Because, you see, the segregation of Sea Island and the exclusion of the general public is much better organized and much more advanced. Moreover, like that proverbial frog in the pot on the stove, neither the residents nor their neighbors on Saint Simons noticed the gradual tightening of restrictions and the removal of public amenities. Indeed, the local County government was able to abandon all public streets, alleys and utility easements without raising a single objection. Of course, the residents hadn’t received proper notice, either. If notice to individual households had been required, it couldn’t have been timely delivered, because the USPS had already been banned from the premises for some forty years.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,

unless their access be denied by covenant. Deed restrictions. That’s the ticket to exclusive living. But, what that means is just beginning to hit home now that the landlord, Sea Island Acquisitions, has determined that even the mail sorting facility needs to be moved off-island and privatized. Ah, privatization — the new handmaiden of segregation, separation and exclusivity. Which just goes to prove segregation is an equal opportunity instrument of deprivation. Depriving citizens (natural persons) of their private, civil and property rights is a source of satisfaction, regardless of whom it affects.

Sea Island proves that. It isn’t just the menial work force that’s required to leave their own vehicles (cages) off site and ride the shuttle bus. Moderate income guests, who can’t afford a night at the Cloister (a secular, not religious sequestered place), can find lodging at The Inn, located on Saint Simons, next to the “Shops at Sea Island,” which aren’t on Sea Island, either, and take the free shuttle to the beach, where they can walk for $75 a day.

You may wonder how that can be since all U.S. beaches below the high tide line are public. How can people be charged just for walking? The answer is simple. The access to the beaches, as well as the marshes around the island, became restricted when the County abandoned the streets, giving Sea Island Acquisitions a fifty foot wide strip along the eastern edge over which trespass is not allowed, unless one has bought or paid for the privilege.east 31
Talk about abandoning the sheep to the wolves. Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to cite this as a blatant example of how public assets get converted into private wealth. What is $75 a day to walk on a beach but sheep being fleeced?

See, that’s the beauty of using symbols. Though lucre may be considered “filthy,” the predator using money need never get his hands dirty. The deprivation occurs at one remove. It’s a triangular relationship — the triangle of extortion into which wealth disappears and magically surfaces somewhere else, on the other side of the hedge in a Wall Street account. And the extorted never know what hit them until all that’s left is the bills which, if they don’t go to collect and pay, will leave them homeless, as well.

One almost feels sorry for the residents of Sea Island. Even the trailer parks on Saint Simons, being much less exclusive, get home delivery of their mail. Neither “exclusive,” nor “separate but equal” are obviously positive.

Being shut in or out and equally deprived is not a good thing, whether it’s being perpetrated on Ferguson or Sea Island. But, at least in Ferguson, the voters can throw the bums out. Sea Island property owners have tied their own hands by agreeing to deed restrictions. That the County abandoned them is another matter, but getting their streets back is going to take more than a trip to the ballot box.

Editor's Note: this story also appears at Hannah Blog. Image: Peace Officer caricature by DonkeyHotey via his Flickr photo stream and used under Creative Commons license; Sea Island, GA private security gate entrance by Julian Smith.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."