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It’s not uncommon to hear kids from neighborhoods like mine say they hate cops. As a white, middle-class kid living in a white, middle-class neighborhood this used to surprise me. How can you hate cops? Sure it’s annoying when you get a speeding ticket (but wasn’t that your fault to begin with?) True, occasionally they act like jerks. But sometimes my coworkers can act like jerks. This doesn’t mean I hate everyone I work with.

I didn’t understand why anyone would hate cops. I also didn’t understand why anyone would want to join a gang unless they were heavily coerced into doing so. I didn’t understand any of this until I moved to da ‘hood.

I would estimate that gangs and police both equally contribute to and detract from the stability of our community. I acknowledge that the mission of the police is more noble than the mission of a gang. The police exist for a good purpose. For this reason, I am much more critical of their actions and egregious shortcomings.

Both groups have some similar vices. Gang bangers deal drugs, which should come as no surprise. So do the cops (which was a surprise to me). I know that several cops deal out of the back of a local restaurant. Gang bangers accidentally kill innocent people on occasion. So do the cops. Recently, gang bangers mistook a young man for a member of a rival gang; they shot and killed him. Last summer the cops shot and killed one of our neighbors for pulling a candy bar out of his pocket; they thought he had a gun.

The gang on our block works to protect residents from external harassment. I don’t have to worry about some young punk trying to mug me on my block. When someone kicked in our exterior door, everyone from the local gang offered to help us find the perpetrator (and potentially beat the shit out of him; we respectfully declined their help). The cops, on the other hand, are significantly more likely to humiliate, harass and arrest innocent bystanders. I once watched them arrest two kids who happened to be walking down the street after a fight. The fight had ended a half-hour earlier, and the kids weren’t even around when it happened. The cops (late as usual) arrested the kids because they were the only two they could find.

This brings up another issue with the police in our neighborhood: they are dependably sluggish in responding to offenses. We used to call the cops when people started shooting. The cops would show up 15-30 minutes later–just in time for anyone involved in any mischief to disappear. I watched two kids beating another kid on the ground. When I called 9-1-1, the dispatcher asked if they had a weapon. I said no. The cops showed up 20 minutes later. Fortunately, the kid wasn’t badly injured. He could’ve easily died before they showed up. We watched a kid shoot down the street at someone, then run the entire length of the street to hide in his house. We told 9-1-1 that we could see him holding the gun and what house he hid in. The cops came a half-hour later. What’s particularly frustrating about this is that the cops are never far away.

They patrol our street every 10-20 minutes. The University Police (the third largest police force in the state) is less than 1/4 mile away. In real emergencies–i.e. they actually hit someone, instead of just shooting at them–they appear in the blink of an eye. Last summer they shot someone a few streets over from us. More than 30 squad cars swarmed our neighborhood in less than 2 minutes. This shows that they can respond quickly if need be.

Overall, their lackluster response time sends a clear message: we don’t care unless somebody gets shot. Additionally, the cops in my ‘hood are racist bigots. Virtually every encounter I have with a cop confirms this, whether they be white or black. Cops will frequently stop us and demand to know what we are doing. One cop said that we were “brave souls” for living where we do. This made me wonder about his view of everyone else who lives on our street. He didn’t refer to them as brave souls. Are they not brave? Or do they not have souls? Are they less than fully human in his eyes, and so deserving of living in an environment like this?

On the one hand, I can understand why a cop could become cynical. They often deal with the worst of the worst. On the other hand, bigotry is never justifiable or excusable. It’s wrong. Period.

In my experience, gang violence is less random than I imagined. True, occasionally the violence is random. From time to time the victim was mistaken for someone else or caught in the crossfire. However, the overwhelming majority of people involved in gang violence are involved for a reason. They pissed off a rival. The rival tried to shoot them. Gang bangers don’t sit on their front porch and snipe random people walking down the street. They try to shoot their enemies. Consider also that our gang protects our neighborhood. Like I said, no punk kid will pull a gun on me on my street under the watchful eye of our gang.

Additionally, the sentences doled out by the courts for black on white crime are notably more severe. A few years back, someone accidentally shot and wounded a university student. They went away for life. After that, everyone was more careful of who they shot at. When all of these factors compound, the chances that I will be a victim of a violent crime drop dramatically.

In fact the members of our local gang have expressed interest in promoting the healthy development of members of our community. For example, a good friend from our ‘hood has been taking some substantial steps to get his life on a better path. However, he continued to use drugs supplied by our local gang. My wife marched down to their porch, approached the leader of our local gang and confronted him about this. The leader responded well and said he’d put a moratorium on dealing to our friend. “He’s trying to do something good in da ‘hood,” he said. “Not a lotta people try and do that, and we support that kinda thing.”

Of course, gangs lose points in my book for the obvious reasons. I think our neighborhood would be better off without the drugs that they sell and the inter-gang violence. While they don’t purposefully shoot random people, I’d also rather that they didn’t shoot their enemies. Other than the drugs and violence, however, they do little harm to our neighborhood.

They’re a far cry from the gangs of previous decades who played a legitimate role in society–some even received federal grants. I know that the founder of our gang fought for years to keep heroine off of our streets. Yet, I often wonder if they weren’t somewhat forced into the vices that they now exhibit.

In summation, neither group has earned my respect. I’m admittedly harsher on the police than on the gangs, because I expected more from the cops and less from the gang bangers. I can now understand why kids from neighborhoods like ours hate cops. I have to constantly remind myself that not all cops are assholes, like they are in my community.