Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the temptation to abuse power

While Krista was busy outside listening to people saying how they like to be deceptive, I was inside asking a vendor if we were in the correct line. Enter... an NYPD police officer.

Officer: Is the bathroom right up these stairs?

Vendor: Actually, the lobby doesn't open until just before showtime.

Officer: Are you kidding me?

Vendor: Sorry. You'll have to use the bathroom at Starbucks just down the street.

Officer: You must not be from New York. You should try to stay friends with the police.

Vendor: Sorry, it's just theatre policy.

Officer: This is bad. You should try to make friends with the police. This is not good.

Vendor: It's the same for everyone, you can ask the manager.

Officer: Sure it is. I've used that bathroom before. This is not good. I'm just sayin'... you should try to stay friends with the police.

Then the officer exited the building. It's hard to express satisfactorily how threatening this all sounded. I have no problem with our police officers getting a break where they can get one. I would have no issue with them getting to use the bathroom when I, the customer, cannot. And I am sure that officers sometimes receive these little "thank yous" and I am all for that. However, when the officer slowly begins to think it is his right to receive something other than his pay for him to do his job, that is a problem. That is called bribery. It seemed to me (as ridiculous as it sounds) that the officer here was saying, "If you don't let me use the bathroom, the police won't be your friends, which means that bad things could happen." I don't care if the police are my friends. The police need to do their job for their friends or their bitterest enemies with complete objectivity or they are in danger of being consumed by their own authority. It was interesting to me that the officer's first barb hurled at the vendor had to do with whether the vendor was a true New Yorker. It's like a line from a western or something. "You ain't from around these parts, are ya? If you were, you'd know that the law in this town gets what it wants."

I watched the officer for a while after that while he stood outside venting to a couple of other officers. One of them went inside the building near the vendor while the first officer talked to him the entire time on a cell phone, I assume in some sort of strange intimidation technique. I was concerned enough about the whole exchange that I went and wrote down the officer's name. It was a deeply disturbing moment.

It symbolized to me the deep danger of authority and power... a subtle shift can take place concerning an unimportant, even trivial, issue and suddenly a well-meaning and even noble man can discover that he is abusing his power so that he doesn't have to walk down the block to use the bathroom. It's tragic, and I hope it was an exception in this officer's life. And I hope that I will catch any such moments in my own.