Misguided approach to teen drinking

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday May 14, 2005

It is certainly reasonable for parents, community leaders and officials to want to work to curtail underage drinking. But red flags go up when self-styled "vigilante mom" Dale Pratt-Wilson, organizer of the Committee for Drug and Alcohol Free Teens, makes wholesale charges of communitywide complacency and rails against our misguided "norms." That sounds a lot like the culture war rhetoric of Pat Buchanan and the moral values posturing of George W. Bush and company.

Consider the Kinahans, who were recently charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The incident occurred when police, responding to a noise complaint, discovered some teenagers drinking in their back yard during their son's birthday party. Before the party, these parents had talked with their child and his friends about rules and expectations. They stayed home to be available as an adult presence. They greeted guests at the door.

Even Lynne Johnston, a vocal member of Pratt-Wilson's committee, acknowledged that "These were not negligent parents. They are, in fact, very conscientious ones ... the teenage host asked [those who brought the alcohol] to leave and wouldn't let them inside the house. The uninvited trespassers would not leave and the parents had no idea there was an uninvited party outside."

The Kinahans hardly seem complacent. Their actions seem normal enough, if not the "norm." But Pratt-Wilson said she was "pleased" with police action in the case.

Read Pratt-Wilson's guest column of last Nov. 11 and her recent comments in the papers and you will find that her primary concern is with law enforcement and punishment. The police have increased their efforts at parental notification. Pratt-Wilson wants to see criminal charges.

But I doubt most Chapel Hillians are ready to throw the book at drinking teenagers and their parents (or, as in charging the Kinahans, someone else's parents). Community activist Will Raymond spoke for many when he wondered "if saddling a 13- or 14-year old with a court record, possibly forcing them into the juvenile system, is the best course of action?"

This perspective was articulated quite well in a Dec. 1 letter to the editor from George Entenman.

"I'm not going to endorse this committee's conclusions until I feel that they are truly interested in preparing our teens for adulthood. Like it or not, adults use alcohol and drugs. ...Yes, some of us choose not to drink or use drugs at all. Others succeed in using them in moderation."

Last Tuesday, one local paper ran an article headlined "Alcohol oversight tightens" and another announcing that "Downtown events may include alcohol." Teenagers may not read the news, but such contradictions are not lost on them.

Adult actions give minors a mixed message about drugs and alcohol of both the legal and illegal varieties: that they can be an accepted tool for coping, that they are a not-so-forbidden pleasure, and that they are a dangerous pitfall lurking at the edge of the playground. Teen awareness of parental drug use and abuse goes back at least as far as the Rolling Stones' 1960s hit "Mother's Little Helper."

Increasingly, parents respond to their own pressures by medicating their children. According to the CDC, there is a bull market for prescriptions for stimulants and antidepressants for children. By 1996, the UN's International Narcotics Control Board had seen enough and expressed concern over the extent of Ritalin use by American boys.

George Entenman asks, "Why doesn't [Pratt-Wilson's] committee search for ways to make the lives of our teens less stressful? Should we add a police 'crackdown' to the pressures on kids who had better get into an Ivy League school or else?

"We need a committee that doesn't seek to widen the social gap between children and adults. Let us find ways for young people and adults to include each other in conversations, meals, work and social activities.

"Let us learn to listen to and respect each other. Expecting our police, judges and prisons to solve our problems is even less realistic than expecting our teachers to."

Entenman has formulated a compelling argument for our community. It avoids the simplistic morality of the law-and-order approach. Instead, it recognizes the complex nature of human affairs, particularly our love-hate relationship with drugs and alcohol. It challenges us to incorporate a human dimension into our thinking about the challenges facing those on the cusp of adulthood.

Surely among the many attendees of the recent meeting of the Committee for Alcohol and Drug Free Teen-agers, there are some who share Ent-enman's perspective. It is up to them to broaden the leadership of their group and not leave it primarily in the hands of a law-and-order vigilante.

Issues: 

Total votes: 215

Comments

The bigger question is the role of government vs. the role of parents. If you don't want government (the police) enforcing drinking laws (which local police say they haven't been doing), do you want government to provide for more family planning services? Why should government decide at what age an individual can begin driving--or carrying passengers? How about smoking? 20 years ago these same kinds of debates were raging about the sales of cigarettes to minors.

"State policies, such as taxing the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, decrease teenage smoking and drinking, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The researchers also found a correlation between an increased availability of family planning clinics and a decrease in teen sexual intercourse. The study results suggest that state and local legislatures can help teenagers make decisions to avoid unhealthy behaviors by implementing laws to make cigarettes and beer more difficult to obtain and increase the number of family planning clinics. The study is published in the February 2005 issue of Preventive Medicine."
http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/Press_Releases/2005/bishai_teens.html

This is such a complicated issue, it is difficult to use "sound bites" to express a thoughtful analysis. Or, to extract bits and pieces of quotes to frame-up the issue, as I think you have done here Dan; but I will grant that your wording will garner discussion and debate - is what Dale Prate-Wilson has been doing vocally not analogous to your approach?

Caution is warranted in regards to police action in such cases. However, I would note that Dale-Prat Wilson raised real public awareness on this issue. Prior to her actions hardly a whimper was being heard on the important issue of substance abuse in teens locally, much less the role of schools, local government, parents and the community in addressing this problem. All of these agencies have been involved, so the role of police has not been the central theme, although enforcement of existing ordinances has been a notable point raised by the committee. To their credit, local police have become more clear about what they will and will not do regarding enforcement.

The committee itself is not dominated by Ms. Wilson, and is comprised of a diversity of viewpoints, but a strong committment to action and local accountability, not just talk.

Substance abuse in kids and the associated problems for their health, safety and future is well documented, using the scientific/academic rigor we expect in a community such as Chapel Hill.

However, I would also say that the same sort of academic rigor we speak to in "show me the data" before I take action, often leads to the introduction of circular arguements (but for...) which lead us nowhere.

The police, fortunatly or no, seem to respond to political pressure. This years fad is teen drinking. Previously political pressure made them care about the crack trade in north side, DUI other times, panhandlers other times. Today the CHPD has eight funded but un-filled positions. They'd like to increese patrolls up town, mainly at night and on weekends. To say "bust more teen parties" is a nobel call amongst many. I doubt there's a big "bang for buck" effect regarding public welfare though. Ms. Pratt-Wilson asks the CHPD to reduce enforcment for crack dealing, mugging on W. Franklin, or speeding in front of my house. Perhaps she's right that CHPD is wrongly turning a blind eye her cause de jure. The parents, she seems to believe, are un-able or un-willing to do it. On the other hand, if the parents and the kids don't care it's hard to expect the police, me, or any one else to care.

I care, and most people do (about all of the issues you list). No simple fix, agreed. But, where is the Town Council leadership on the issue of safety in the community...Bill Strom, Mark K., Cam H. and Sally G?

Is there a problem with homelessness leading to aggressive panhandling, and what are we doing about it? Are our roads and intersections safe from speeding traffic and what is being done about it (the four above led the charge to nix Red Light cameras - a no cost enforcement system aimed at reducing speed and making intersections more safe)?

The teen substance abuse problem is not a "fade" nor an issue that people should lop onto parents - it is a broader issue involving local government, local law enforcement, social/psychosocial services, schools AND parents. All have been playing productive roles at the table on the issue of teen substance abuse.

I will say that some of our local politicians have not really gotten on board from a policy support standpoint.

This is not about the police or politics. It is about love and compassion .

Alchohol or knowledge, when used poorly, always ends with trouble.

Teach proper use.

Bobby, it might be acceptable at the Federal level, but locally, no matter how many times you try to change history by misdirection, it isn't going to work. The RLCs did end up costing the Town real $$$$. If we end up following the State's Constitution, the Town in fact, will have to pony up roughly %80 of ACS's take and pay it to the schools. Ouch!

You've been hammering Councilmen Hill, Strom, Greene and, especially, Kleinschmidt, before you buddied up with ACS and their local collaborators, so at least be honest about your motives - it ain't road safety. I saw you criticised them for not making efforts to improve road safety since the RLCs were ditched. Bzzzzt! Wrong answer. They've all called for increased safety measures to some extent. You can read the minutes of the meetings and the reports they requested if you'd take some time to go back through last year's agenda items (unfortunately a much more difficult process since the search feature was zapped).

The law enforcement rhetoric of Pratt-Wilson and some of the other "teen drinking" opponents (are there proponents - haven't met any have you?) has ratchetted up since the last election. Instead of concentrating on effective anti-drinking strategies or calling for more support for outreach programs (like the one that operates out of the Old Courthouse downtown), they've called, with their ally Jim Ward, for the crazy idea of background checks for keg buyers. They've called for criminalizing childish, foolish, stupid behavior that demands treatment not a permanent mark on the record. They've called for throwing the book at those criminally negligent parents that let their kid have a party in the basement (and why didn't they extend that negligence to the parents that let their kids attend the party - we know, don't we?).

We've seen were their calls lead us - it's called the War on Drugs, and that's been sadly, pathetically, criminally ineffectual.

Until I see a call for practical, proven programs (Terri B. has enumerated them elsewhere) and a concommitment desire to support these programs, I'll take what you say more as political posturing than a real concern.

Your statement illustrates that you tend to associate viewpoints which are different from yours by questioning people's motives in a negative way, thereby attempting to marginalize their views on issues such as the road safety issue I've been advocating for. At one time during the heat of the RLC debate you went as far as to say to a reporter that I was a disgruntled campaigner for Bachman, a name I did not even know at the time. Yes, the reporter "gave you up."

In terms of attacking my research on the RLC issue, I did exactly what you said; searched the agendas and minutes of Council meetings.

Results, results, results...where are they on the issue of road safety? The nice rhetoric you now point out from these four on this issue is just more of the same. I've seen a lack of commitment to improvements, and to what they said on this issue. Sure, I have not let up on those who have not taken seriously public viewpoints on important issues such as this one. Should I, would you? By the way, my views are not just my own. That RLC discussion was a notable credibility issue for many in the public regarding the stewardship of local leadership.

And oh yes, there are numerous other issues I have with the Council, not just RLCs.

In terms of the cost of red light cameras, that cost was as the result of direct actions the Council took in not fulfilling its contractual obligations (which by the way the public was assured by these same parties that there was no financial impact we could expect). Another misleading statement.

And, by the way, it is way overkill on your part to poo-poo a local initiative aimed at working with kids around substance abuse by likening it to the National War on Drugs.

Local Politicos Conduct Circular Arguments with One Another

In a recent editorial, Dan Coleman has accused Dale Pratt-Wilson, founder of the Committe for Drug and Alcohol Free Teens, of Republican-style abuse of morals, "...red flags go up when self-styled "vigilante mom" Dale Pratt-Wilson, organizer of the Committee for Drug and Alcohol Free Teens, makes wholesale charges of communitywide complacency and rails against our misguided "norms." That sounds a lot like the culture war rhetoric of Pat Buchanan and the moral values posturing of George W. Bush and company."

Committee member Bobby Clapp, standing up for his colleagues, replies that the Committee is more than Pratt-Wilson. Clapp goes on to say that the committee "is comprised of a diversity of viewpoints, but a strong committment to action and local accountability, not just talk." In a rare moment of conciliation, Clapp agrees with Coleman and activist Will Raymond that police action should not be part of the solution. "Caution is warranted in regards to police action in such cases."

Clapp also praises the broad array of community groups working to resolve this problem, despite certain group dynamics, "The teen substance abuse problem is not a “fade” nor an issue that people should lop onto parents - it is a broader issue involving local government, local law enforcement, social/psychosocial services, schools AND parents. All have been playing productive roles at the table on the issue of teen substance abuse."

Unfortunately, Clapp's response to another posting becomes more political and names names. Will R, whose memory is long, ignores Clapp's thoughtful response and jumps on the criticism of local officials who sided with him (Raymond) and against Clapp on an issue two years ago. Will, stand by your friends, a quality already exhibited by Clapp in response to Coleman's initial attack, responds with, "Until I see a call for practical, proven programs and a concommitment desire to support these programs, I'll take what you say more as political posturing than a real concern."

Here folks you have three individuals who have a history of not agreeing with one another and who are determined not to agree, despite the fact that they do!

Not to dwell on recent history, but back when Frankin St. was dirt......

First, it was Harrison, Ward, Wiggins and Verkerk that assured us that it wouldn't cost a dime to get out of the contract. Contrary to their assertions, not only did it cost us to drop the contract but ACS argued about the amount owed (I think they wanted to recover some of their sunk cost).

As far as the same group, other than Harrison, what have they done to call for practical solutions to traffic problems - one's that adhere to NHSTA re commendations and Constitutional values? Look who called for backing plates, repainting road marks, evaluating timing, etc. it wasn't the "group o'three".

As far as calling you a "disgruntled Bachman campaigner", I wondered if you were associated with her campaign. You could possibly understand my confusion as her and your defense of the RLCs sounded identically scripted. I didn't know of an association and if I made some kind of incidental linkage then that was a mistake. Later, some one told me you were her Treasurer and I when I checked I saw that wasn't the case.

As far as the local effort to reduce teen drinking, drug and, I imagine, huffing abuse, I celebrate it. What I don't celebrate is Pratt-Wilson's apparent desire to have a solution tending heavily towards law enforcement. Her concentration on criminalization is identical in nature to that of the "Drug Warriors". Surely, in a fact-based world, you wouldn't characterise an effort that's increased our prison population to be 7 times more per capita than the most regressive police states in the world to be successful, would you?

Finally, I welcome honest viewpoints that differ from mine. I also welcome debate grounded in reality. When I see you employing empty rhetoric on a variety of issues or repeating ACS's Astroturf sloganeering in lieu of verifiable research and facts, well, I must ascribe your motives to something other than a desire to compare notes and come to a common agreement.

For now, it appears we have Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

Good news, there's always the next topic.

I am a member of the Chapel Hill Coalition and Co-Chair of the Parent Education subcommittee. I wanted to make readers aware that our subcommittee seeks to bridge the gap between parent and parent, child and child and parent and child at the family level. As part of our committee we have parents, business owners, behavioral health specialists, employers and employees who choose to work together to decrease stresses and stress factors within and without the family unit that may converge together to fuel the misuse of alcohol and use of drugs. We look forward to reducing alcohol and substance abuse among our youth through education, awareness and encouraging parents to feel empowered as the “guideline setters” in the home. Children still look to their parents first for guidance. The Parent Education subcommittee is just one of the well thought out teams that are meeting as part of the coalition to address all facets of this important issue.

Wanda Boone, Peer Parent Educator,
Chapel-Hill Coalition Co-Chair

Ms. Boone, your approach seems eminently practical and tempered with compassion, two elements that should help it suc eed.

It's Entenman-esque reduction of the precursors to abuse, like stress or parental inattentiveness, demonstrate there are many alternatives to criminalization.

WillR,

Reasonable comments. Yes, I look forward to the next topic.

Thanks, Wanda. Part of my hope in writing this column was that voices like yours would be heard more clearly.

Have any aspects of the public education system been identified as possible sources of stress that could contribute to substance abuse?

Mark - slightly related:

" The Price Of Teen Popularity"

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/05/17/health/webmd/main695881.shtml?...

PS: Not an endorsement, just an article that I just came across.

Good question, Mark. I received a private email (so I can't cite particulars) telling me of two cases in which the teenager was on a career/life path not very well supported by the school system. This apparently did cause stress that led to problems.

Wanda, you said that "I wanted to make readers aware that our subcommittee seeks to bridge the gap between parent and parent, child and child and parent and child at the family level. As part of our committee we have parents, business owners, behavioral health specialists, employers and employees who choose to work together..."

It seems that one critical group is missing from your committee: young people.

Thank you Ruby,
"The Parent Education subcommittee is just one of the well thought out teams that are meeting as part of the coalition to address all facets of this important issue." Some of the other committees include: Youth Advocacy (includes youth), Law Enforcement, Media, Schools and Education.

As a teen in the community, attending these events, going to parties and such, I think it is unfair and inconsiderate to claim the works of the committe are the works of a "vigilante mom."

I feel the efforts being made are heroic and as a teen I am glad that there are people out there who are concerned about my safety, happiness, and future.

I do feel a teen caught drinking should be punished, it is ILLEGAL. If an adult was caught speeding or even further robbing a bank they would be faced with consequences. If teens are let off easier due to their age then they are going to live thinking they are not responsible for their actions and grow up believing that law enforcement, or rules in general are bendable and able to be worked around. I think even the 13 year olds, caught at parties drinking should be held the standards as well. If they arent taught not to drink at 13, who knows what greater offenses they may be swayed to do at elder ages?

Also, making teens sit around the dinner table and talking is NOT going to solve all your problems. A girl I attended school with sat at the dinner table, talked to her mother about EVERYTHING, and yet she lost her life in the struggle of drugs. Simply eating a meal together isnt bridging any "social gap." I eat meals with my grandparents constantly, and yet we still have nothing in common, despise each other, and will probably never understand each other.

Also, this committe is not just made up of "vigilante mom"s. I am a rising high school junior, and if i remember correctly, when i attended a meeting there were other teenagers as well as law officers, young adults, parents, teachers, and general concerned citizens of Chapel Hill. To say allowing the group to operate is leaving things "primarily in the hands of a law-and-order vigilante" is outrageous and maybe even a little judgemental.

I think for you to truly understand the motives, workings, and goals of the group, or even Dale Pratt-Wilson you should attend a few meetings, open your horizons a little.

It never hurt to try to see or hear the other side's opinion.

If I, a 16 year old teenager, am willing to calmly read the bitter article about a group I am very much active in and respond politely and respectfully, I do not think it would be much trouble for any of the people sharing the opinion of the author of the original article to take 2 hours and attend a simple meeting. You could even voice your opinion, and maybe change a few "vigilante" minds. Maybe?

Last year, the school district tried to limit the number of AP courses students could take as one way of reducing stress. Parents objected and won.

OK, I hear you if you hear me. I have a few friends on the committee and will get those thoughts to them and Pratt-Wilson.

Kate, thanks very much for sharing your perspective. It is particularly valuable as you are, as I understand it, one of just two teens participating in the committee's work.

I hope you will re-read my column and note that it does not say that "the committee is just made up of vigilante moms." It suggests the opposite and encourages other leadership to express itself. That is just what Wanda Boone has done above and it is refreshing to get her prespective.

There is a difference between alcohol and bank robbing: bank robbing is still illegal when you are an adult, drinking is not. That is a point that the George Entenman letter cited above gets to. If the only focus were on law-enforcement, how would teens learn the complexities of adult alcohol use?

Great suggestion Kate. Journalists should always have first-hand experience with the subject they are writing about. How do we find out when and where the meetings are held? What other strategies do you, as a teen, think should be investigated or implemented besides legal enforcement to help reduce teenage drug/alcohol usage?

There are a lot of issues here -- if a child is already down the path of drug or alcohol abuse, it becomes an ILLNESS, not a CRIME in my opinion, and should be treated as such. That being said, it is perfectly proper for the community to encourage parents to discourage underage drinking in their homes, including criminal penalties to those who actually PROVIDE illegal drugs to their children or friends, or PROVIDE alcohol to underage persons, wteher it be their children or the friends of their children.

I have a beer a month and a mixed drink a year. My kids both went through the Wake County school system where there appears to be a successful program on educating kids about alchohol, as when I order a beer at a restaurant or have one at home, my kids have tried to discourage ME from drinking. I've explained the difference to them between minimal drinking and alcohol abuse, and I have responded by praising their decision not to drink.

Kate, Kate, Kate...THANK YOU FOR WEIGHING IN ON THIS! You are a hero!

However, you will need to keep sharing your views. Some of those who are critics of the effort are critical because they say more youth input is required. Yet these many people will not like your viewpoint...that includes some adults particularly.

This is not just parents trying to bust teen parties as some would say.

Dan,

I really don't mean to insult you on this. But, in reading your comments I just do not believe you are taking in what people are trying to communicate in regards to this community effort to deal with substance abuse among teens.

Your comments/responses to Mark, Wanda and Kate are cherry picking in a negative way. You keep coming back to a basic criticism of Pratt-Wilson and others associated with the effort; overstating your points around selective quotes. And your basic criticism (I think) is unfounded.

Consider what has been repeated over and over:

1.The committee is not a closed committee, and has thoughtful people serving on it
2.Youth are involved. For example, of the 2 - 3 forums I attended many youth spoke very thoughtfully with a diversity of viewpoints
3.This is a multi-pronged community based approach with parents, schools (public, private and charter), law enforcement, social services...all involved
4.And substance abuse in youth (if left to its on devises) is a scientifically proven health problem

Thanks for giving me a chance to reiterate my conclusion:

Surely among the many attendees of the recent meeting of the Committee for Alcohol and Drug Free Teen-agers, there are some who share Entenman's perspective. It is up to them to broaden the leadership of their group and not leave it primarily in the hands of a law-and-order vigilante.

Remember, "vigilante" is Pratt-Wilson's term for herself, not mine. But, it conveys why a lot of folks are turned off by her approach. If you value the committee, you will join me in encouraging other leadership to assert itself. As it stands, she is the main spokesperson, the contact-person, and the acknowledged leader. She comes across as a one-trick pony and it's a trick that many do not appreciate.

Dan,
I agree. Pratt-Wilson has come across too strongly on the side of law enforcement for my taste, and she has been so widely and almost exclusively quoted as representing the committee, that any more moderate voices have not made an impression on me.

In my opinion, we are having a dialogue that is long overdue in this community. There's no question that this is an incredibly complex issue that involves all of us--parents, law makers, teachers, youth, law enforcers, service providers, concerned citizens--not to mention social, political, and economic systems, and many sensitive moral and ethical issues.

What is important is that we come together to recognize that there is a problem here; our youth are self-reporting use of alcohol and drugs that competes with and often out-paces national norms. Our community is not alone; hundreds of communities around the country are facing the same situations, some with even more tragic outcomes than we have faced.

I ask everyone who has commented--and those who haven't--to learn about this issue, face what's going on with our kids and participate in a solution in a way that is appropriate for you. We have a long road ahead of us in this work, and everyone must play a part to ensure the safety and well-being of our kids.

Thanks to everyone out there.

Go Isabel. I was looking for another freindly voice on this issue; just a couple chimed in on this thread.

Interesting update from today's HeraldSun

In a recent test to determine whether retail businesses in Chapel Hill and Carrboro were checking identifications of people trying to buy alcohol, six out of 35 businesses sold alcohol to a "youthful" purchaser without verifying the buyer's age, reported a local advocacy group.

"We're pleased that 29 establishments carefully attempted to verify age and refused sale to our 22-year-old survey buyer who did not have identification, but it's fair to say that we are concerned about the others," said Dale Pratt-Wilson, director of the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. "We have more work to do in our effort to stop the illegal sale of alcohol to kids."

Will,

Thanks for posting this link to the article. I'm pleased that the coalition is being so proactive but I'm disappointed that they didn't publish the names of the six non-compliant establishments (although they did report them to the authorities). Underage drinking is a health hazard not only to the underage drinkers but also to their friends (who might be in the same car with them) and to the general public. Having their lax practices exposed to the community at-large might encourage these business owners to obey the law and to more effectively train their employees to do so.

Do you consider this vigilantism? Does that word have a connotation?

Also, the buyer was 22 years old, but how do we know if that person looked 30 or not?

daniel

Dan, dead on analysis.

Underage drinking is a problem but the punitive nature of Ms. Pratt-Wilson's pogrom seems, at least to me, extremely counter-productive. There are root causes to the problem - causes that proceed teens trundling off to the liquor store to buy booze. That, to me, seems to be the best pivot point to change behavior.

The article mentions that "The results of the tests will be shared with local law enforcement agencies, who may use the information in tests they conduct with underage buyers".

Is Ms. Pratt-Wilson's organization acting as an agent of the law? Was there pre-approval from law enforcement for this stunt?

There's a slippery slope. Acting as an agent, with overt or even tacit approval of law enforcement would be quite problematic and, if the case, should be thoroughly investigated.

Given the past history, how soon before this organization's membership feels privileged to go to parties with video cams in hand to record potential malfeasance (or check properly registered kegs, if that ridiculousness passes the legislature). What about a friendly neighborhood checkpoint - manned by the Ms. Pratt-Wilson, et. al.?

Heck, how enamored would Ms. Pratt-Wilson be if some citizen barged in to do an audit of her organization's finances?

Would a "Just checking, ma'am" cover it?

What's the difference in an organization being proactive outside of town government and your personal efforts to identify public wifi spots around town without government endorsement? By the criteria you are applying here, you are invading resident privacy in the same way you 'fear' the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers might do some day. I've always considered you to be an advocate of citizen activism. Where do you draw the line between activism in the name of public health and safety and privacy rights?

Terri

It's an interesting task trying to judge ages. A foundation that I work with mans a beer cart at the DBAT. The training there is simple - card everyone unless they look over thirty. Twice while working the carts, I was "tested" by an agent who was in the questionable zone. After carding him, he didn't even buy the beer! What also makes it interesting is that many of the students have licenses from other states and you have to search for the birthdates.

The fact that the grant the organization received came from a state agency adds credibility to their activity. There is nothing illegal about what they are doing, and personally, I happy to see it. And Terri, consistency is hard to find these days among some activist.

I see this project as akin to what some neighborhood watches do. There have been several examples of community policing that have improved neighborhood, reduced crime, and improved safety.

I would hope that they would contact the owners of the bars that didn't card and give them the opportunity to better educate their staff and resolve the problem. From personal experience I know that sometimes an owner can be doing his absolute best to comply with the law and one negligent employee can screw everything up.

WillR,

I fail to see the analogies in your examples: "Given the past history, how soon before this organization's membership feels privileged to go to parties with video cams in hand to record potential malfeasance (or check properly registered kegs, if that ridiculousness passes the legislature). What about a friendly neighborhood checkpoint - manned by the Ms. Pratt-Wilson, et. al.? Heck, how enamored would Ms. Pratt-Wilson be if some citizen barged in to do an audit of her organization's finances?"

What you're suggesting appear to be illegal acts. What the coalition did was a legal act: a 22-yr old bought beer. What the coalition reported, however, is that 6 business owners/operators/employees committed illegal acts in that they did not check identification. (although I also would like to know whether the 22-yr old looked 22).

Based on your examples, do you consider it illegal to call 911 on a cellphone and report a possible drunk driver? After all, you can't know for sure that the driver is impaired - maybe they're just a lousy driver.

I think I understand the points you and Dan S were trying to make. But if we don't like the laws we should try to change them. And if we think the laws are OK and just we should encourange their enforcement/compliance.

"But if we don't like the laws we should try to change them. And if we think the laws are OK and just we should encourange their enforcement/compliance."

amen.

Anita,

I like your suggestion (contacting the owners privately) better than mine (publishing the names) - for the reason you gave. Thanks.

Anita, you're on to something by suggesting the first line of defense should be contacting the establishments - maybe even working with them in strengthening their training.

Terri, the slippery slope involves acting as an agent for the government without the constraints normally imposed on law enforcement. Oversight and transparency - where is it? Your Wifi example is strained and not applicable. BTW, we're reporting publicly advertised Wifi hotspots - not all the ones we "know" about.

GeorgeC, thanks for trying to "get" what Dan and I are talking about. It's always a judgement call on calling 911 on a lousy driver (which I've done a very few times in 3 decades). For me, the person has to be a "clear and present danger" - a standard each person must determine.

In any case, I don't actively seek out lousy drivers and act as an agent of the government. You're familiar with this organization - is it possible this sting operation was done at the behest of ALE or some other organization? I expect not, but re-reading the article has made me wonder.

To all of you. This organization got some great grants in the last year to "work the problem". Considering Ms. Pratt-Wilson used the stick (calling law enforcement down on business) over Anita's excellent suggestion (working with folks proactively), how effective do you rate this approach?

Again, I'm struggling here with the approach (just as I condemned the ill-thoughtout keg registration), not the intent.

Finally, we've all lived with stunning success of the punitive Drug War (until 9/11, the favorite excuse for Constitutional erosions and heavy-handed policing of the populace). Do you think "more of the same" will ever be effective?

Working proactively has much to offer but at some point you have to resort to the stick. Every operator of a facility that sell alcohol is well aware of the problem and that they must constantly monitor what their employees do. None of this is new. At some point it's time for the stick, as the various incidents in the Triangle this year suggest.

At what point are we willing to enough already?

 

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