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April Fool’s Day – A Perfect Time To Evaluate Underage Drinking

April 1st, 2005 · No Comments

That’s right – fools. That’s what they are. They’re the fools that are underage, but go out anyway and binge drink at places that serve them alcohol, wherever they might be. They’re the fools that serve those kids. They’re the fools that turn a blind eye to it. And, of course, there are the fools that don’t even consider it a problem.

I would not bash alcohol. I drink pretty frequently myself, and some people even say too frequently. I wouldn’t bash social binge drinking, because basically, that’s what I end up doing myself. And also, I wouldn’t write this so seriously if it was not an April Fool’s joke. It’s not, though, because I’m really sick and tired of watching things be harmed by other people’s addictions.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the harms that alcohol causes. Some of these harms are more obvious than others. We accept a tolerable amount of harm with alcohol, and have created legislation to define what we collectively find to be acceptable. Ideally, we could say that democracy has worked to bring us to a level where our drinking habits are kept in check by laws to discourage the bad behaviors associated with alcohol. Urinating in public, for example, is a behavior that is more often associated with alcohol than not. But beyond the sanitation problems created by an occasional release of urine into the streets, there are more severe consequences – like DWI related fatalities. Professor James D Gould makes the argument that DWI is not such a serious crime, and that it offers an ethical case that, for most people, is clear-cut in the fundamentals, familiar from everyday life, and extraordinarily complicated in the details. In other word, it’s ideal for philosophical analysis at the introductory level.

I disagree with that fact that Professor Gould could even be so callous as to challenge the idea that DWI is wrong. In New York, at least, a second or third drunk driving charge within 10 years of the prior’s conviction results in a felony DWI charge. If we consider repeat DWI offenses to be jailable offenses, then certainly we acknowledge a problem. The problems, however, seem to be reminiscent frequently enough around the capital district. Our DWI fatality and property damage rates are not significantly higher or lower than areas around us – but we still contend with an incredible amount of DWI fatalities and related property damage. To compound matters, under-age and other young drivers that drive drunk are far more likely to crash than older drunk drivers.

I say, why measure the harm caused by underage drinking just by counting dead bodies, wrecked vehicles, and the cost to replace battered mailboxes and telephone poles. We should all agree that serving alcohol to minors commercially is wrong. I don’t object to giving someone underage a drink in the right context. In fact, I drank quite frequently before I turned 21. That’s the way it is in college, right? I acknowledge the pressure that’s put on kids to drink more than one wants sometimes is hurtful in it’s own right – but to be specific, I think it is far more harmful for any adult to own and operate a bar that is knowingly serving a population that is composed of more underage than legal drinkers. For a friend or relative to buy someone underage a drink is, to me, an effective way of putting the training wheels on young drinkers. But if we let one bar serve minors nearly exclusively, then when do we say how young really is too young? Shouldn’t we (and don’t we already) have some limit on that? If we don’t, then is it really acceptable to have a system that lets thirteen – or ten, or eight – year olds drink in a bar?

I heard from a close friend that her sixteen year old brother was able to get in and get served at one of the bars on or around Washington Avenue in downtown Albany. More often than not, it’s underage females that find it easier to get past the bouncers and into the bars than it is for underage males to do the same. If a sixteen year old male can get in to get served alcohol, how young were some of the females that they’ve let in before? Could they possibly have been as young as fifteen, or even fourteen years old, perhaps? Is it right at any level to allow such establishments to operate? Should we tolerate any establishment that decides it wants to serve underage kids?

I say no. If underage drinkers are going out and driving, only to find themselves wrecking their cars and sometimes their own and other people’s lives, then it’s something that we should intuitively know to say no to as members of an enlightened society. The laws on the subject exist to reinforce that moral fabric that we have sewn that dictates that it is wrong to sell beer to minors at all, let alone for a profit and with a valid liquor license. Then think about the violence associated with this type of establishment – likely a higher proportion of fights, rapes, and property crimes. Underage drinkers are often na�ve, and so it’s natural to know not to let them get out of control. An older friend or relative usually has the experience to know when enough is enough for their younger friend – someone was always there for me. But I wasn’t going to these types of establishments, and the people looking out for me were the ones serving me the alcohol. In Albany, and a large number of other places, you are served on the basis of the availability of cash. The people serving you are looking out only for themselves.

But if you build it, they will come. The kids come out night after night and drink to their heart’s content. The police even show up occasionally, but suspiciously leave without ever sanctioning these places, or so it would certainly seem. Why threaten the livelihood of not only the bar owners, but nearby convenience stores and eateries that likely serve a substantial number of underage drunk college students each night? I say, because it is wrong to consider economics before social consequences when talking about the ethics of underage drinking. People really do get killed as a result of underage drinking. Lives really do change in a moment’s notice, it’s not just a fairy tale told to high school kids before they were shipped off to their dormitories. What’s even worse is to consider that otherwise innocent bystanders are often hurt by the underage drinking. Vandalism is rampant in the areas around these bars. Last night, I saw someone no older than 19 rip a banister off a set of concrete stairs right near my building. It was obvious that he had been drinking all night, and decided to latch onto the idea of removing the banister in a moment of sheer foolishness.

I will have to pay for common area damages because of what he did. But think about the other costs that we all pay as a result of underage drinking. To begin with, the fact that it’s college students who are doing the underage drinking far more than most. Our publicly funded education system is getting a very low bang for its buck by accepting such a high level of binge drinking. Of course, SUNY Albany supposedly has cracked down on this since it was named the “number one party school” by the Princeton Review. That qualification has certainly lowered the value of the diploma, and it’s likely that few people consider that the future of those students will be adversely affected by the fact that their degree may be rendered worthless to them depending on the field and level of study. Think about the taxes that we contribute to a highway system that replaces guardrails more frequently because of drunk drivers. Think about a healthcare system that has to handle more injuries as a result of underage drunk drivers (and drunk kids falling down and getting hurt) than it does from other age groups. We pay to support all of these institutions that are harmed by the underage drinking that we allow. To the proprietors of the peripheral stores in the areas around the bars: I’m sorry that fixing this problem will probably hurt you.

But to the proprietors of the bars themselves: shame on you. The fact that corrupt officials allow you to continue to operate doesn’t revive people that died as a result of the alcohol consumption that you illegally profit off of. If a state senator, driving inside a Crown Victoria was crashed into from behind, exploding the already fragile gas tank inside the vehicle, I’m sure that it wouldn’t take long to shut these places down and imprison the owners for criminal negligence and violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control laws. The owners are irresponsible adults, and the patrons are students deemed too young to be responsible enough.

It’s time to do in Albany what we’ve already done to some extent in Troy – like Elda’s, these illegal operations should be shut down, and their owners charged criminally. The city of Albany should also seek damages from the owners by sanctioning them financially – to pay for the consequences their actions caused by their decisions as responsible adults. I really don’t believe that what I’m advocating is radical – is it radical to hold adults liable for the harms they’re causing to minors? It’s rational to hold people liable for all of their actions, as there should always be accountability.

That’s all I want: I want the owners of these establishments to be held accountable for the things they do that are common knowledge. In the meantime you will never get a cent out of me or anyone that I can convince to also boycott you, and so help me I will fight to see that you end up in a state prison where you belong. You are the scum of the Earth.

This was not an April Fools joke.

Tags: Government & Politics · Police, Law, & Justice

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