Saint Augustine, Florida, resident David Swindler is an avid Disney fan, and a bit of a smart aleck. When he used his acerbic wit on employees of the Pop Century Resort at Disney World, he learned that bullies with badges do exist. Upset with the customer service he was receiving (or the lack thereof), Swindler commented that he would have plenty of time to build a meth lab in his room in the time it was taking to get service. This comment led to an armed raid of Swindler’s room and, although nothing incriminating was found, a lifetime ban from Disney property. This flagrant abuse of authority and power to stick it to a belligerent patron was not a unique event. This author recalls witnessing a similar overreaction by those with power and authority almost 20 years ago.
June of 1997 was the beginning of just another summer for many people, but for those of us standing in line inside a Federal Building in St. Louis, Missouri, it was time for in-processing for U.S. Army MOS training. Many soldiers like me were enlisted in a reserve component and had completed basic training the summer before, then resumed civilian life for our last year of high school before returning to active duty status to complete our job training for the service. So here we stood, carrying the green, canvas duffel bags which contained all of our government-issued clothing and supplies, in a long, barely moving line on an unusually humid day.
Perhaps he should have known better, but one soldier let his mouth get the best of him. A loud, overweight woman in a police officer uniform was enjoying her job a little too much, yelling at the men standing in line as if she were a drill sergeant, rudely barking orders and freely doling out condescension and insulting remarks. Two years previously, two individuals had used a Ryder rental truck full of explosives to bomb a Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring almost 700. This event was not far from anyone’s mind and probably had something to do with the increased security; however, it did not excuse the disrespect and disregard this woman was showering on those in line, which is probably why the man standing in front of me turned and in an almost inaudible whisper stated, “Man, she’s out of line. It’s not like that guy has a Ryder truck in his pants or something.”
The whispered comment was overheard by a heretofore unnoticed male drill sergeant, who beckoned the commenter to approach him and assume a front-leaning rest position while the drill sergeant emptied the entire contents of the soldier’s duffel bag on the floor as he publicly berated its owner. This exercise in public humiliation served no positive practical purpose other than to make a lasting negative impression on those who witnessed this overreaction to an unfortunate, innocent comment spoken in frustration. Much like this drill sergeant, Disney security personnel—with help from the local sheriff’s department—abused their power and authority to force their guest, David Swindler, to answer for what was simply a smart aleck remark.
Abuse of authority and power is a destructive force in society, and unfortunately such abuse can easily become a common occurrence which in turn breeds an unhealthy disrespect for those who exercise authority over others as part of their jobs. Hopefully Disney has the sense and good will to make their situation with David Swindler right.