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Between the Lines: ‘Karma Police’

Sep 10, 2015

Between the Lines: 'Karma Police'

The announcement came over the crackling precinct speaker. The double tone. The emotionless voice: “Karma police. Battalion L to quadrant 3. Arrest this man.”

“Ah hell,” you said from the cot beside me. “Again?”

I sat up. Started strapping up my boots, groping for my club.

You looked over with hollow eyes, asked me what it all was for.

I ignored you. Holstered my taser.

“Think I can sit this one out?” you asked.

“Keep your voice down. They hear everything.”

The target’s description flashed on the monitors: He talks in maths. He buzzes like a fridge. He's like a detuned radio.

I knew the type. Intellectual. Humanitarian. Not sanctioned by the regime. I put my helmet on. Another double tone.

“Karma police. Battalion L to quadrant 2. Arrest this girl.”

The monitors lit up again. Something about her Hitler hairdo, the way she walks. Probably an artist. I was only half looking. Mostly worried about you. I knew what happened when you started questioning. I’d been there. Years ago.

Finally you got up. Helmet in hand. Hair disheveled. Holster empty. “This is all making me feel ill.”

“Just wait ‘til we have crashed her party,” I said. “You’ll feel better then.”

You absently buttoned your vest. “I’ve given all I can,” you breathed. “It’s never enough. Whose side are we on?”

“You know how many would kill to be on the force?”

You weren’t listening.

“But we’re still on the payroll.”

“Like I give a shit.”

“What about the kids?”

You looked up then. “What kind of role model am I?”

“You know what happens to deserters,” I tried.

So we went out. Fell in line. Locked step. Broke doors. Kept our eyes down. We did this every night. There were no stars above, even if we’d looked up. They’d been gone for years.

We found our target. He lived alone on the 50th floor of a 70-floor cinder block unit.

“This is what you’ll get,” I hollered, busting down the door with my club, “when you mess with us.”

I nodded for you to cuff him. You didn’t move. Just shook your head. You were still in the hall. You removed your helmet. I thought it was over then. I thought I might have to report you.

So I wrenched the target’s arm myself. Pathetic guy didn’t even resist.

I shouted at you.

You worked over your options. Would you run? Was there time? You knew your decision would kick off a lifetime of consequences.

“Don’t do this. Think of your girls.”

A minute passed. I thought you were a goner. But then your jaw loosened. Your shoulders dropped. You put your helmet back on, stepped up and cuffed the target hard, yanked him up, slammed him against the wall.

“Phew, for a minute there I lost myself,” you said and kicked him. I almost told you to cool it, but held my tongue. I was just glad you were back. Glad you’d done the right thing.

Story by David Berkeley based on "Karma Police" by Radiohead. Photo credit: Tony Webster / Foter / CC BY.

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Between the Lines: 'Karma Police'
Between the Lines: 'Karma Police'