A lot of people are talking lately about how badly police treat minorities, particularly black people. I want to share some thoughts from my late friend Roy A. Childs, Jr. Roy, for those of you who don’t know, was an important figure in the libertarian movement from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. Tragically, he died in May 1992 at age 43. He became famous while still a teen as a result of his writing the famous “Open Letter to Ayn Rand.” Here are the opening lines:

The purpose of this letter is to convert you to free market anarchism. As far as I can determine, no one has ever pointed out to you in detail the errors in your political philosophy. That is my intention here.

Yes, Ayn Rand so loved to be told about her errors, especially by a 20-year old. (By the way, years later Roy told me that he wrote that letter the night his wife left him.)

In about the mid-1970s, Roy was a little down on his luck and a friend of his hired him to be the manager of a slummy apartment building in New York City. A number of the tenants were on welfare and a number were black. There was a large overlap between those two groups.

In the letter I wrote for his memorial service, I talked about how that experience changed Roy for the better. A lot of us libertarians, especially guys, in our early to mid-20s, didn’t have a whole lot of empathy. I don’t know what Roy’s “empathy level” going in was, but I do know that he had a lot at the end of the experience.

We would talk on the phone every month or so (phone calls were very expensive) and I would hear of his experiences. He was the guy who was called at 2 a.m. to unplug a toilet that had backed up. You might think that this made him resentful. You would be wrong. When I heard Roy talk about the tenants, he never used this verb to describe his feelings for them but the verb I would use was “love.”

As he got to know them, he did one of the many things that Roy did well: asked them questions and paid attention to the answers.

He went in with the assumption that they would hate policemen because police treated minorities in New York so badly. That was an assumption a lot of us libertarians carried at the time.

Wrong. It wasn’t that they hated cops; it was that they judged cops. They were empiricists. They liked cops when the cops protected them from thieves and gangs. And they disliked cops when the cops got nasty.

But there was one group, Roy told me, that virtually all of them hated: social workers. Social workers interfered in their lives and had real power over them.

By the way, here’s a great tribute to Roy.