Until very recently, as a law-abiding person, the presence of police generally gave me a feeling of security, well-being, order.

Not any more. I confess that, lately, when I see a cop in my rear-view mirror, I get a very uneasy feeling.

Maybe it’s the horror stories we’re hearing. Maybe it’s the way local and state police have become little more than appendages of the federal law-enforcement apparatus. Maybe it’s the fact that so many cops have taken sides against the Constitution and the rights of the people in the name of more efficient crime-prevention.

But the recent incidents in Oklahoma, where police shot an unarmed mother holding her child in her home, in Virginia, where a SWAT team killed a watchman guarding a dice game at an after-hours club and in California, where a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raid on a gun shop resulted in the death of the shopkeeper, provide some hard evidence that police in America may be getting out of control

I think also about columnist Geoff Metcalf’s anecdote about the law-abiding man arrested and jailed for having in his possession a tire iron, which was classified as a deadly weapon. Had he brandished it? No. Had he threatened anyone? No. Had the California Highway Patrol officer awakened on the wrong side of her bed that morning? Maybe.

But when you start putting all these incidents together, with the backdrop of the massacre in Waco, Texas, and the unnecessary shootout at Ruby Ridge, it’s no wonder Americans like me are beginning to worry about the possibilities of an emerging police state.

“Oh, it couldn’t happen here,” some retort. “America is different. The cops are our friends.”

That may have been true through most of our history. But there’s one big difference today. The government no longer trusts the people. There is a move to disarm the populace and to entrust our safety solely to professional law enforcement. This is a pattern we’ve seen in other authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. It’s a prerequisite to the formation of a police state. It’s what our Founding Fathers warned us about. It’s why we have a Second Amendment.

One of the other problems we face in America today is the increasing number of laws on the books designed to turn virtually everyone into a law-breaker.

It’s easier for cops today to fill their quota of arrests and citations by targeting non-threatening, non-violent citizens than it is actually chasing down violent criminals. Too often, today’s cops make no distinction between hardened, professional criminals, and people who may or may not be in technical violation of the law — perhaps even an unjust, unconstitutional law.

But the biggest danger we face is the federalization and militarization of all law enforcement. Inter-agency task forces, bringing together local and state police with federal agents are now the rule of the day. Federal agencies bribe local cops with funding, equipment and training programs.

America is rapidly becoming an “us vs. them” society — with the cops and government on one side and the people on the other. Many of us don’t feel the heat yet. But it’s just a matter of time before we’re all confronted with the harsh realities of the new emerging police state.

One of these days — and it may be sooner rather than later — America is going to be confronted with a real domestic emergency. It’s not a matter of if, but when. We’ve had precious few real domestic crises throughout our history, and Americans have become spoiled. Thus, we take our freedoms for granted.

There are so many possibilities and excuses on the horizon — Y2K, terrorism, the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction from rogue states as well as China and Russia.

Will America respond to the next crisis in a way that preserves our civil rights and liberties? Or will we lose our tentative grasp on freedom — giving up an illustrious tradition for the sake of security, safety, order?

If we’re to maintain any semblance of freedom in the worst of times, we must hold the government and police accountable in the best of times.

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