One side had the power of the laws because they wrote them, the other side was subject to the laws because they were under them.
That kind of imbalance was always going to blow up and that's where we are now in America.
I left Belfast for the last time in the mid-1990s because I'd had enough of all the overhead surveillance helicopters.
I had enough of the armored saracens and the swaggering police force, looking like a cross between the Terminator and Robocop.
I'd had enough of security cameras on every street corner, checkpoints and barricades, and the enduring sense of an unbridgeable social division.
Back then the North looked like it had no future, it didn't even have much of a present. I left because I wanted to breathe.
“I can't breathe” is the pleading phrase that you hear from black people with a policeman's knee on their necks. Often they are held in a brutal chokehold, long after they have been subdued and cuffed.
Why is it so necessary to keep holding them down on the ground by the throat? Why must six or ten officers pile on top of one man? Video after video, year after year, has shown us exactly where that leads.
Oppression has certain identifying markers. One of the most obvious is willful blindness. The refusal to put yourself in the shoes of another person, or even listen to them, or to debate them, or to entertain that they even have a point, is a sure sign that you're making out better under the prevailing racial and social conditions.
That was the case for unionists during the Troubles. Ask yourself honestly, would you like to be treated like a black person in this country? If you can't say yes that means that you recognize the oppression.
In Northern Ireland, you either made the rules or you were subjected to them. One side had the power of the laws because they wrote them, the other side was subject to the laws because they were under them. That kind of imbalance was always going to explode and that's where we are now here in America.
There is an old African proverb, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” That's part of the moment that we are in now too, after the shocking murder on camera of George Floyd.
The anger and frustration that you have watched erupt from coast to coast is proof of a tipping point. Since the 1960's African Americans have marched and protested for their civil rights year after year, march after march.
But since then they have watched black person after black person being profiled, abused, denied their rights, and often killed. Now, finally, they are taking action. They're done being shot or killed.
How scary this time is depends on where you find yourself in this debate. I've seen something like it before. The news reports about the eruption of social strife and conflict remind me of aspects of the start of the Troubles in the North because that's where we are in America now.
Surveillance helicopters are flying overhead day and night, security cameras are everywhere, cops look like they're auditioning to become Star Wars stormtroopers, the press is being targeted with plastic bullets and truncheons, Northern Ireland is coming to America.
Masked Military Police at the Lincoln Memorial tonight.
"We have a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed."— randomirish (@randomirish) June 2, 2020
-Abraham Lincoln pic.twitter.com/d9wMUbtidp
But it's worse here. In the White House, we have a ranting demagogue who pours petrol on flames, in exactly the same way that Ian Paisley once did, and with broadly similar social results.
Trump stirs the pot with his incendiary tweets and then stands back and watches the cities burn. Paisley used to thunder and amp up his followers in a similar way and then absolve himself of any blame when they resorted to violence.
Trump has not called for calm at any point because he does not believe that he is the president of the people who are protesting. He sees no profit in it for himself. Instead, he has threatened the protestors with "overwhelming" military violence, taking an already tense situation and lighting the touch paper.
Like all authoritarians, including Paisley, he is making the calculation that the white voting public, unnerved by what they see on TV, will flock to him the way unionists once did when they felt threatened by the wider Irish nation. He wants to look like their strong man protector. “Only I can save you...” he has literally said.
But how strong did Trump look turning off the lights of The White House and retreating with his family to an underground bunker when angry protestors reached their gates? In fact, he looked more like the deposed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. The hashtag BunkerBoy trended on Twitter the next day because he took flight.
Here’s how this scene was viewed live in Australia. One of America’s closest and most dependable allies. Rendered speechless. Just watch. pic.twitter.com/IjOzgs3WYo— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) June 2, 2020
So it turns out there's a cost for stirring the national pot so relentlessly. It turns out that being a president for only some of the people will not protect you from the righteous anger of the rest of the people.
Barack Obama never had to hide in a bunker. But he didn't believe in red states and blue states, he believed in the United States. If this country is ever to heal it will need a new president who believes in us all.
Trump is not, and never will be, that man. His vision for America ends where it begins, at his own feet.