News out of La-La Land shows just how deep-rooted the social decay in America has become. Brazen robberies and “high-profile heists” in some of the toniest neighborhoods of Los Angeles have the wealthy scrambling to purchase bulletproof cars and hire their own private security forces.
Is the United States turning into Brazil, the notoriously crime-plagued nation noted for a distinct lack of respect for the law and a yawning rich-poor divide that has the well-off scrambling to wall themselves off from the far greater mass of their fellow citizens?
Safe Rooms for the Super Rich
“Private security contractors report that a recent string of high-profile retail robberies and home burglaries in upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods has caused a dramatic uptick in requests for their services and prompted many of their wealthy clients to change their routines out of a mix of caution and fear,” The Hollywood Reporter detailed on Dec. 22.
Wealthy Angelenos seem to be redefining the term “exclusivity” to mean rights to personal safety not available to their fellow citizens.
Ratcheting up private security forces is a predictable move, but other actions can only be described as exotic, and more befitting of life in a banana republic rather than the supposed leading nation of the Western world:
“Since late August, Rising S Company has completed risk assessments for multiple high-end clients in L.A. and installed 13 safe rooms, nine safe doors, two underground bunker shelters, and two window fortifications in Brentwood Park, Beverly Park and Paradise Cove, says general manager Gary Lynch. This compares to their installation of seven safe rooms in California in the 2.5 years prior.
“Estate manager Bryan Peele, president and founder of the L.A.-based Estate Managers Coalition, told THR that his clients have ‘fully equipped safe rooms that they can live in for a few days, if necessary, that are completely hard-wired with phone cables, Internet, everything.’
“One of Peele’s clients has purchased three bullet-proof cars in the last couple of months, while another located a company in London to replicate his luxury watches. ‘This guy will take a $200,000 Rolex and copy it, using stainless steel and other metals, so it looks like the original but costs maybe $2,000-$3,000 per watch. So, in the event that it’s stolen, the client is out a lot less money,’ says Peele.”
‘I Have Been Robbed Every Way Imaginable’
It is no exaggeration to say that this is exactly how Brazil got caricatured as a teeming cesspool of lawlessness fueled by an ever-widening class divide between a super-rich minority and far greater numbers of citizens living in poverty.
From a 2009 New York Times article on life in Sao Paolo, the largest city in Brazil:
“For Alessandra Amara, a bulletproof car became a necessary expense three years ago, she said, after she was robbed for the 11th time in little more than 10 years. ‘Having an armored car in this city is essential,’ said Ms. Amara, 34, who works in the financial department of a car dealership. ‘I have been robbed every way imaginable.’
“Once, thieves abducted her in her car at gunpoint and made her pull money from two bank machines before freeing her. Another night, as she waited in her car at a red light, a gunman stole her wallet as witnesses silently stood by.
“The last straw came when she was leaving work in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Suddenly, a boy slammed a stone through her window and grabbed for her purse. She took her foot off the clutch and crashed into the car ahead of hers. She clung to the purse and the thief ran away.”
The meme of the moated luxury residential neighborhood in Brazil surrounded for miles by slums is quickly becoming a reality in California. “[Peele’s] Hollywood clients are securing 24-7 security details, installing more cameras, adding barbed wire on top of fencing on their properties, and calling for armed security prepped in defensive driving to pick them up when their private jets touch down,” The Hollywood Reporter continued. “They want someone who knows how to get them out of any situation,” Peele told the publication.
One does not have to hate free enterprise to realize that an ever-expanding gulf between rich and poor is a recipe for severe social unrest in any nation. Brazil has long been the poster child for the condition. The United States appears determined to follow its lead instead of learning from the cautionary example.
“The wealth gap between upper-income and lower- and middle-income families [in the U.S.] has grown wider this century,” the Pew Research Center reported in 2020. “Upper-income families were the only income tier able to build on their wealth from 2001 to 2016, adding 33% at the median. On the other hand, middle-income families saw their median net worth shrink by 20% and lower-income families experienced a loss of 45%. As of 2016, upper-income families had 7.4 times as much wealth as middle-income families and 75 times as much wealth as lower-income families. These ratios are up from 3.4 and 28 in 1983, respectively.”
While it may be fun to laugh off the “billionaires shouldn’t exist” talking points of progressive politicians such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), it should be pointed out that widening chasms between the very rich and the very poor pose as much danger to the wealthy as they do to the impoverished. Societal friction, if not outright collapse, will eventually worm its way into the “safe rooms” and underground bunkers of Beverly Hills.
Affluent Americans would be wise to heed the words of warnings emanating from South America: “You need to invest in police and have reforms so that criminals actually face the law,” Rafael Alcadipani of the Forum for Brazilian Public Security told The Financial Times in September 2021. “And we need to improve social conditions. An unequal country like Brazil will always have problems like these.”
~ Read more from Joe Schaeffer.