The silence in (Luzerne County Judge Mark) Ciavarella's courtroom was deep and abiding, six years long, and it was never broken from within by the people who were closest to it. It was a conspiracy of silence. A large group of people agreed to ignore an unpleasant truth of which they were all aware.
– William Ecenbarger, Kids for Cash
WHY DO CERTAIN people – including plenty of Northeastern Pennsylvania residents – remain tight-lipped when others around them engage in unethical, even illegal, behavior? The question pertains not only to the 2009 juvenile justice scandal about which Ecenbarger writes in his newly released book, but also to ongoing situations outside the courthouse, perhaps maybe even near you.
It probably could be asked of some deer hunters afield this week, aware of gun-toting goofballs who knowingly violate state game laws. It applies to specific individuals within Luzerne County's public schools, who have taken a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil stance toward coworkers who paid bribes for teaching jobs or other plum, taxpayer-paid positions.
It's relevant to nonprofit board members who don't speak up about bad behavior within organizations and countless, cowed employees who bite their lips rather than report safety violations and other abuses in the workplace.
Perhaps most significantly for Pennsylvania's welfare, the question also should be asked of many people working today in the state Capitol – a place seemingly run amok with spineless sorts who will do most anything to please their masters. Consider, for instance, the case of former state Sen. Robert Mellow.
The longtime Democratic power broker from Peckville, 70, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday as a result of his guilty plea to public corruption-related charges. He'll likely become the latest in a long line of the General Assembly's arrogant rogues to do prison time for misusing staffers to do campaign work. Prosecutors estimate that state taxpayers lost about $80,000 in salaries paid to employees who did Mellow's personal business on state time.
Those office workers certainly should have realized they were breaking the law. One staff member reportedly even warned Mellow they could go to jail.
Why not blow the whistle? What makes safeguarding a paycheck, or a friendship or social status, more important than preserving one's conscience?
The silence in Luzerne County's juvenile court not long ago allowed the unconstitutional and unconscionable treatment of children to go unchecked for years. Elsewhere, no doubt, collective silence continues to conceal sinister situations and do damage.
If you have knowledge of a reportable incident, do the right thing. Shatter the silence.