While Google Doodle celebrates what would have been John Steinbeck’s 112th birthday this week, the literary writer’s hometown of Salinas, CA is reeling in real drama. Salinas police arrested six officers in nearby King City in a major corruption bust. (The KCPD currently has 17 active members.) The accused policemen are accused of targeting poor local Hispanics by having their vehicles impounded and towed to the same garage. Owners never got their cars back because they couldn’t afford to pay the fees to reclaim them. Police officers allegedly kept the cars for free, or sold them to make money.
This story wouldn’t have surprised the Nobel Prize winner. The theme of corruption runs through many of Steinbeck’s novels–East of Eden, The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath all mine deep veins of corruption to produce the signature moral dilemmas that make Steinbeck’s work endure. He wrote about what he knew, too. Steinbeck’s father was appointed to the office of Monterey County treasurer after the previous officeholder was accused of embezzlement and resigned in ignominy. As Steinbeck once said: “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”