Tag: Drinking culture

Zero Tolerance? Nope, Zero Thinking

Earlier this week, there came to light the story of Erin Cox:

Two weeks ago, Erin received a call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Erin drove to Boxford after work to pick up her friend. Moments after she arrived, the cops arrived too and busted several kids for underage possession of alcohol.

A North Andover High School honor student, Erin was cleared by police, who agreed she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. But Andover High told Erin she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use. In the middle of her senior year, Erin was demoted from captain of the volleyball team and told she would be suspended from playing for five games

Now when I read this my first thought was that this was more Zero Tolerance nonsense. But, as Jesse Walker notes, it’s actually worse than that:

“We do not have a ‘zero tolerance policy.’ Each incident is fully investigated and decided upon based on the individual facts and circumstances. Our administrators are tasked with applying the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules pertaining to student-athletes and alcohol in a consistent and fair manner,” Hutchinson wrote. “To be clear, the MIAA’s, and by extension North Andover High School’s, ‘chemical health rule’ prohibits student-athletes from possessing alcohol, in addition to prohibiting its use, consumption, or distribution.”


In other words: According to Superintendent Hutchinson, Cox’s school does not have an inflexible rule that produced a perverse incentive to let a drunk friend drive a car. Cox’s school carefully considered the evidence, investigated its options, and then deliberately decided to take an action that produces a perverse incentive to let a drunk friend drive a car.

Never let it be said that zero tolerance is the single dumbest idea in American schools.

This is mind-boggling. The punishment visited on Cox is not that bad in the scheme of things (although it could harm her chances at scholarships). But why would any punishment be visited here? Because she was in the vicinity party where there was alcohol? Does alcohol emit evil alcohol rays that corrupt children so that they can not even be allowed in the building?

I know what their problem is: it’s that she responded to this in a sensible manner instead of calling the police. It’s because she accepted her friend’s drinking as a reality and dealt with the situation in hand instead of burning everything in the service of combating underage drinking. I think the base problem here is the hysteria over underage drinking and the lawhead belief that government and its agents can prevent people from touching a drop of alcohol until they are 21.

I’m reminded very forcefully of social host laws. Every year, high school students have graduation or prom parties in distant locations, get drunk and drive home. And every year, kids are killed this way. Some parents have tried hosting parties at their own homes: they turn a blind eye to the drinking as long as the kids turn over their keys. These parents, to thunderous applause by MADD and other lawheads, have been prosecuted under “social host laws“. The logic is the same: we need to stop kids from touching the evil firewater. All else is collateral damage. We can stop teenagers from drinking if we just try hard enough.

The message being sent could not be clearer: let your friends drive drunk. If they are killed or crippled as a result … well, that’ll learn ‘em not to drink.

ABC On the Prowl

Three months ago, a 20-year old college student named Elizabeth Daly was leaving the Harris Teeter in Charlottesville, Virginia with some bottled water. Suddenly, a bunch of men in plain clothes jumped out, yelling and waving guns. Daly tried to drive away and called 9/11, who realized these were agents of Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control. They thought she had done some underage alcohol purchasing. Once that was sorted out, they let her go.

Haha! I’m just kidding. They actually tossed her in jail for the night and charged her with assaulting an officer because she grazed one of the plainclothes gun-waving ABC agents with her car. The charges were finally dropped last week about the time the story went viral. And today, 911 calls were released that confirm that she thought she was being attacked by God-knows-whom and another from a bystander who thought she was being attacked by thugs. So far, everything confirms her version of events. And so far, the ABC thinks their agents acted properly.

It tells you a lot about where we are in this country that if a bunch of armed men in plain clothes are running toward you and screaming, you should assume they are cops even if you’ve done nothing wrong. It tells you a lot that, in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s University, this would be considered a reasonable conversation:

Martha: “We should call the police! Some guy is running down the road, brandishing a gun and yelling about booze!”

Tom: “Don’t worry, Martha, that’s just an ABC agent. Someone may have sipped some wine.”

More from national treasure Radley Balko (whose book I just bought):

– Is it standard procedure for ABC agents to jump out on college students in the parking lots of stores that sell alcohol? (According to the local paper the Daily Progress, several other students were apprehended the same way.) Is it standard procedure for them to draw their weapons?

I lived in Charlottesville for six years and frequented the Harris Teeter late at night. To my recollection, they only sell beer and wine so mistaking bottled water for booze is kind of hard to do. Harris Teeter is just off campus in a strip mall with a very large parking lot. At night, it’s pretty quiet. It’s not exactly the streets of LA or something. There was no reason, no reason on Earth, why — even if we assume busting 20-year-olds for drinking is a good idea — this couldn’t have been handled two agents in uniform walking up to her and asking for ID. In fact, I’ve seen ABC agents do it that way.

This is only the latest incident in the creeping use of more police force to enforce increasingly petty crimes. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, a dozen government officials — some of them armed police officers — raided the Family Wash bar in Nashville in what police claim was an inspection to be sure the business was complying with the state’s alcohol regulations. Owner Jamie Rubin told the Tennessean, “They may want to call it a ‘spot check.’ But you can talk to anybody that was in there – employees, patrons – it was a raid. That’s what it was.”

Balko lists a few more episodes. You really should read the whole thing.

Several thoughts emerge and I’ll coalesce them into what I would do were I a state legislator in Virginia.

First, I would cut ABC’s enforcement budget by two-thirds. Busting underage purchasers requires one agent, maybe two. If they had six for this, they clearly have three times as many agents as they need. Oh Hal!, you wail, it’s unfair of me to tar an agency based on one incident (even though this isn’t an isolated incident)? Well, that’s the same logic the bluenoses used when they justified raising the drinking age to 21 in the first place. And, as I have argued before, we clearly have a surplus of law in this country.

Second, I would move to lower the drinking age back to 18 or abolish it altogether. The federal government has been allowed to get away with its highway money blackmail for far too long. Abolish the drinking age and let them sue. Encourage other states to do the same. There has never been any evidence that the 21-year drinking age does anything other than create criminals. The federal government doesn’t have the stones to back down; maybe a rebellion by the states could do it.

None of that will happen, of course. As I’ll argue in tonight’s post, America has become a nation of sheep led by sheep. Cuts to ABC won’t happen because “OMG! Kids!” And the drinking age won’t be lowered because “OMG! Kids!!!” And I doubt the paramilitary tactics used will be reigned in because, “OMG! Criminals!”

So listen to that 911 call. Because eventually, we will all be experiencing it. Unless we wake the hell up.