In Boston, you can be fined for not clearing the snow off your sidewalk after a storm. You can also be fined for not clearing the public sidewalk in front of your property. To ensure compliance, the city’s Code Enforcement Police drives around and tickets people for not clearing snow, not clearing the snow in the right manner, or not clearing it to approved city measurements.
Now, regardless of my thoughts on the ordinance in question and the enforcement thereof, what rankled me most about that article was the attitude of the enforcer featured, one Sergeant Steven Tankle. He’s a perfect example of what happens when a powerful bureaucracy gives a little man a badge, a ticket book, and legal authority to lord it over his fellow citizens. He doesn’t just do his job impartially; he relishes the power he holds, and he looks forward to using that power as often as he can.
In Germany, they have a derogatory name for people with such a mentality: Blockwart. The blockwart was the Nazi party member politically responsible for the city block, and usually also the local Gestapo denouncer, ratting out the people in his neighborhood if they were overheard talking critically about the regime. A Blockwart is the type of unpleasant fellow who will call the cops on neighbors whose hedges are untrimmed, or who park their car half an inch too far away from the curb.
Sergeant Tankle doesn’t care about snow, or how and when you clear it. People like him are drawn to jobs where you can legally throw your weight around and bark orders at people, because it makes him feel bigger and more important at the end of the day. If someone told him tomorrow that instead of snow code enforcement, he’d have to bully people over wearing a crucifix (or not wearing one), or drinking coffee left-handed, or walking out of step with your group, or wearing white socks with jeans, he’d cheerfully get out the ticket book, shine his badge, and go to work with a song on his lips.
The next time you wonder how a nation of fastidious, orderly people could turn into the butchers of ten million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other “undesirables”, think about what would happen if you gave the good Sergeant a machine gun instead of a ticket book, and you told him that an easy-to-identify segment of the population in his city has no human rights, and can be shot without legal penalty for not following orders instantly…