The senseless cruelty of some people

I keep plugging that truly excellent radio program This American Life and this week they had a new episode that looked at the travails of security guards at JFK airport, through the eyes of one of them, LaDonna Powell. It was a gripping show but as I listened I grew increasingly furious at how badly the supervisors treated the guards, especially the women and people of color.

She described what it was like to be assigned to one of the posts at various points on the tarmac where the guards would have to check the various things that were sent to the planes, such as the catering trucks. These posts were little cubicles and had to have a guard all the time and the person there could not leave it until a replacement was sent. But sometimes the supervisors would not let them go to the bathroom for hours on end. There was no justification for this action, it was just because they enjoyed seeing them suffer. It was disgusting.

Powell describes what she saw when another female guard called in a request to the supervisors’ room to have a relief sent to her post because she had to go to the bathroom.

Calling to go to the bathroom– and she said to them, I have my period. You could tell she was already hesitant to say it, because she’s saying it on a live stream. Not only can all of us hear it– which is like 57 radios of people– now you’re making her say that, and the client can also hear her. So that’s our 57 radios and eight radios Port Authority in Manhattan and Port Authority in JFK can hear.

Embarrassing. She ended up using the bathroom on herself and bleeding on herself that day. Nothing, no sorry. They were all laughing about it, thought it was hilarious. Oh, she going to sit in her piss until she gets off. Like, they had no concern for her.

Your faith in human nature is shaken and you wonder how people can be so petty and mean and vindictive and cruel to other human beings, making them suffer just because they can.

Powell is tough and she set about fighting back against the system, so the episode is not entirely bleak. The guards work for a massive security firm called Allied that provides guards to businesses all over the country. The CEO was quite evasive when asked how it could be that abusive supervisors were allowed to continue in their jobs.


  1. says

    I suspect abusive behavior is common in any authoritarian organization -- you’re basically hiring people who like to shit on subordiates.

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