One thing I find terribly frightening is brazen abuse of power. Whether it is by a business owner, a union president, a police officer or a judge – these practices can be life altering. It seems that with the littlest amount of authority, an ego can become so out of control that it will allow for abdominal actions.
This weekend, I was listening to a story called Petty Tyrant on NPR's This American Life. The piece was about Steven Raucci, a bully to the greatest degree. Raucci was sentenced 23 years to life for a variety of crimes including arson and weapons charges. This man was a supervisor for the maintenance department of the Schenectady school system. Not only was he in charge of many employees, he was also their union leader. Clearly, a conflict of interest.
Raucci used the power he had gained within the city’s school district and in the union to intimidate his employees and co-workers, even going so far to threaten death. He would fire people at will without the fear of consequence because he was the one who filed the grievances. He spray painted property, placed bombs in the homes of his enemies and he had many people afraid for many years. He thought of himself as The Godfather and often bragged about the similarity.
Recently, in Hawaii, a pregnant mother and her husband were arrested for accidentally leaving a store without paying for a sandwich. Many of us have mistakenly walked out with something unknowingly hidden under our purses or left on the bottom of the cart. They went through the checkout and paid for the rest of their items, but they simply forgot about the sandwich.
They were handcuffed, searched and demeaned in front of a public crowd before going to the station to be booked. But if that were the whole story, I probably would have never heard about it. What made it national news was the fact that authorities took their 2 year old daughter and placed her with Child Welfare over night. The trauma this likely inflicted on the child AND the parents will be the fault of people with undeserving power; casual decisions made by those being led by their arrogance.
And this kind of nefarious mentality doesn’t stop at the Wisconsin borders. 20 complaints were filed against Calumet County’s DA, Ken Kratz, for inappropriate sexual behavior with female victims. Investigations began after a domestic abuse victim suffering from PTSD was continually harassed by Kratz via sexting messages. She was initially afraid to file a complaint because Kratz would be prosecuting her abuser. While his behavior ultimately cost him his job, he was never prosecuted.
A former Milwaukee police officer, Ladmarald Cates, was charged in September with the rape of a woman who called 911. He gained entry to her apartment under the guise of protection. When she later complained to other officers and asked to be taken to a hospital, she was met with refusal and accusations of lying. It appears that many people abused their power that day.
In August, three Milwaukee County Department of Health Services employees were charged with defrauding the state’s FoodShare/Quest Program. They used their positions to open and renew accounts with fake client names. Not only does this hurt our state financially, it hurts those who truly need this service in order to simply live.
These examples seem to go on forever. A Mukwonago police officer was found guilty of misconduct when he tampered with breathalyzer results. A Wheeler police chief was charged with the sexual assault of more than one child. And there is the consistent and clear abuse of power in our State Capitol in the form of systematically overhauling our laws, norms, rights and traditions on a daily basis.
Power can corrupt at any level. I have seen 18-year-old supervisors who schedule only their favorite employees with premium hours. I have seen 50-year-old restaurant managers who verbally abuse their staff simply because they can. Even a middle school class president can hold themselves to unrealistic esteems. From the classroom to the Capitol – with a little bit of power comes a great deal of responsibility.
And the greatest responsibility should be the capacity for these individuals to keep their feet planted in the reality that they are still just another human being with no greater worth than the guy standing next to them. We need to have the ability to trust those who make the decisions that will and do impact our lives.
We all have opportunities in life to hold power over another. Anyone can accuse another person of a crime – regardless of the truth. Anyone can threaten a person to get what they want. We all have the ability to use our words in a way that could have life lasting effects and consequences. Please, use your power wisely; with forethought and compassion.