When I’d been in Minneapolis four or five years, I got a flyer that said, “ATTENTION!!! WE HAVE A BIG PROBLEM!” There had been a gun fired across the street; young people would cut through the back yard, knock on a side window, enter through the front door, and leave after a few minutes; strangers would peek in the windows at all hours, so—CRACK HOUSE!

The pamphleteers wanted to do two things: have a meeting—this was Minnesota, after all—and send a letter to the father and son living in the house up for discussion, “offering help and demanding a cease to dangerous activities.”

The meeting was packed and included our councilwoman and a crisp representative of the police. When I got there, the politician was talking about what could be done to get rid of the bad guys, including harassment for code violations. When Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Ponelle, and others tried to register to vote in the ‘60s, their bus driver was arrested because his bus looked too much like a school bus. The oppressed have no memory.

The married couple who lived next door were incensed because the police hadn’t managed—by any means necessary, even if they were bogus—to get the young man who lived there out.

The cop assured everybody that things would get better, their calls for help wouldn’t be ignored anymore, when the cops came out they’d be sure to make a report, calls from the neighborhood would be taken seriously, and so on.

I am astounded at the number of people who expect the police to protect them from their neighbors and who are not only willing to put up with incessant police presence but actually want more cops around. The gun-control people are no help without including government agents. Morally restricting the threat of violence to the government leads only to more oppression.

One man wanted more black police, since the bad guys were black. Race is no guarantee of anything in particular. There are a lot of black fools, black racists, black pigs. I bet some black guys become cops because that way somebody will have to pay attention to them. And police forces are havens for cowards, bullies and paranoids, because cops get to carry a gun, a profoundly stupid idea and the only way some of them stay in one piece. Nobody is as full of fear as cops, and with good reason.

If I were king, there would be no career cops. You could be a cop only a little while, maybe a year or two, and then you’d have to go back to whatever you were doing before. Anybody who wanted to be a cop would be unqualified.

I would draft cops, the way we used to draft soldiers. Local, temporary police. Some people long for the old days of the cop on the beat, but those days were better because the cop was part of the neighborhood, not because there were a lot of cops around. Cops who don’t live in the neighborhood are just mercenaries, like Blackwater, liable to turn on you at the drop of a dime.

My Minneapolis neighbors railed about zero tolerance for guns and drugs and gangs and illegal activity in general. When did tolerance get to be a bad thing? We tolerate cops with guns, why not other people? We all have the same right to defend ourselves, don’t we?

I don’t care about crime in my neighborhood. I care about safety in my neighborhood, but I don’t care that what somebody does is illegal. Crime can comprise anything, depending on what time it is where you are. Your being a criminal may just mean that you found a law worth breaking. The founding fathers were outlaws. I’m certainly not afraid of criminals as a group. Frederick Douglass, Mohandas Gandhi, Socrates, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Sitting Bull and Jesus were all criminals. A roomful of criminals could be a lot safer for you than a roomful of cops.

The only gang I’m concerned about is the gang of the rich, of the plutocracy—the police. They don’t have just colors, like street gangs, they have uniforms and battering rams and special cars and trucks and pretty much any weapon they want. The more fearful cops become, the more money politicians give them to protect themselves from imaginary threats, to defend themselves against things that don’t happen.

As sworn enforcers of the law, cops are always supporters of the way things are, no matter what that means, no matter what some mix of politicians has agreed on enough to pass into law. Cops resist change; that’s their job, never mind what the change is—unless it means more for them, more money, more power, more henchmen. Until their political overlords agree on something else, it’s illegal, or ought to be. A progressive cop is an oxymoron. It’s the way the job has been selected for, accidentally and deliberately. Blind obedience is useful. The way we’re doing things is always the right way.

In the ‘60s, criminals didn’t turn vicious dogs and fire hoses on civil-rights marchers; cops did, preventing the pernicious spread of letting the colored folks take a deep breath. Cops are still on the job, and this time the American Medical Association is on their side for the war on drugs; so we’re all—not just black people this time—saddled with a holy war on self-medication and self-determination.

Being thought of as warriors against evil and defenders of right rather than simply as enforcers for the power structure, cops are officially worth more than the rest of us. If you kill a cop, even to save yourself, you can write off the rest of your life. If a cop kills you, he gets a paid vacation. All our lives are equal. Yes, they are.