The Seattle Times editorial board just loves the King County Sheriff’s Office’s crackdown on underage drinking, which resulted in 143 arrests or citations over the first weekend of its annual “Party Patrol.”
Every year, parents are nabbed in the act of willfully ignoring the party they know is being thrown in their absence. A few genuine idiots get caught trying to be the cool mom and dad who host an event and provide alcohol to minors.
Yeah, well, it was certainly a different era, but my mom and dad hosted a couple high school parties at our house where they provided the beer, and they certainly didn’t do it to be “cool.” I suppose you can argue with their judgment, but they were pragmatic enough to know that the kids where going to drink regardless of the party’s location, and they’d rather it happen under their close supervision.
Ironically, the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving was started by the angry mother of a classmate of mine, after my parents called her to pick up her daughter, who was in no condition to drive home. It wasn’t the first or last time I saw this girl get drunk, but it was the only time I saw anyone prevent her from getting behind the wheel of a car.
Illegal, underage drinking only became more normalized in college, where the university actually threw a kegger for us during freshman orientation, and the RA’s made a point of explaining which local bars served undergraduates and which did not. Attitudes started shifting near the end of my senior year (1985) after a study revealing a serious binge-drinking problem on college campuses (duh-uh) was reinforced by a string of alcohol related campus tragedies.
Ominous headlines led to crackdowns by both local university and law enforcement officials… but that only drove the parties off campus. In one memorable example of the media hysteria of the time, a group of Rutgers students held a clandestine end-of-semester kegger outdoors in a wooded area near campus, where the metal keg was subsequently struck by lightning, killing one student and injuring several others. Newspaper headlines the next day trumpeted “another tragic alcohol related death” at a local campus.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate of underage boozing—especially of the binge variety—but having been a teenager myself I seem to recall that kids will be kids, and I find it hard to believe that arresting a few teens or their parents is going to have much of a long term impact on the problem. I hate to get all libertarian on you (that’s Lee’s job) but it strikes me that law enforcement provides exactly the wrong approach to what is at its core a public health issue, and thus I’d much rather the Sheriff’s office focus their resources on apprehending and punishing drunk drivers, rather than waste their time on efforts that may draw flattering headlines, but really do little to address the larger societal problem.
We, as a nation, have an unhealthy attitude toward alcohol and other drugs, that leads to the sort of binge consumption that truly puts our youth at risk. And I don’t think an annual police crackdown, or a couple of rah-rah editorials, does much to promote a thoughtful discussion on the issue.