Friday, February 26, 2010

Freedom (nod) and Responsibility (wink)

Gary Harmon's column in this past Sunday's Daily Sentinel had me mulling a few things over in my head during the week. Mr. Harmon made some good points in his analysis of the deeper reasons behind an underage drinking party at the home of Mesa County's District Attorney nearly 3 weeks ago.

Mr. Harmon seems to want to find some fault with the collective shrugging of shoulders in the more well-heeled (and presumably more socially responsible) parts of our community over a bunch of underage kids looking for a place to party.

I feel a little of Pete Hautzinger's pain. One year ago this weekend, I was working the evening shift at the hospital when a phone call came in from another former place of employment, which happens to tell the cops where to go. It seems that a team from the Underage Drinking Task Force had reason to believe that there were several teenagers with alcohol inside my house, and were wondering if there was any way I could help in getting someone to talk to them, and would I consent to a search of the house afterward?

One phone call to my son, and he was outside and the cops were in. The exact number of Minor-In-Possession (MIP) tickets issued numbered around 15, with a disorderly house ticket lumped in for good measure.

I don't keep alcohol in my house; all of the booze was brought in by the miscreants involved, including the makings for Jello shots. To the task force's credit, it was an alcohol purchase by adults, who provided it to juveniles, who wound up at my house, that got the party, and the so-called grownups, busted. They did a good job.

My son lost his drivers license for a few months, pulled some community service, and the fines and court costs took a nice chunk out of his savings. I can't say for sure that he has completely learned his lesson, but he appears to be achieving some level of responsibility to his college studies and other things.

Unfortunately, Mr. Harmon failed to distinguish between two separate issues in his column; the true problem of minors accessing and consuming alcohol (and those adults who either actively or passively condone it), and the illegal consumption of alcohol by those who are adults by any other legal definition.

My son is 18 now; as an adult in the eyes of the law, he is responsible for his own actions. The government now sees fit to allow him to exercise the right to vote, consume tobacco products, obtain credit and sign contracts, serve on a jury, and fight and die for his country. He can't legally drink a beer with his old man, though.

These are but a couple of examples of the subtle hypocrisies that exist with our society's attitudes toward alcohol, and who may legally possess or consume it. This is familiar territory that I've explored in the past, and found no solid or reliable path through the morass of advocacy that creates a true ideological fork in the road.

Our children are, by and large, pretty smart. They see right through these hypocrisies, and many appear to relish the opportunity to make seemingly intelligent adults look like fools. Mr. Harmon asserts in his column that "
some kids have more MIPs than they have Ds on their report cards, and they have lots of Ds".

I get the feeling that some of these kids wear their MIPs like a red badge of courage, with just as many stories about how they got away as when they got caught. I also get the feeling that a lot of these kids know they'll be taken care of, regardless of how they misbehave.

The resources to deal with this are, in many ways, already out there. The Mesa County Underage Drinking Task Force is an extraordinary source of information and advocacy for both aiding enforcement efforts, and changing hearts and minds about what is truly responsible living.

Mr. Harmon asserted that MIP is not a serious enough crime to warrant attention by parents and other adults who ascribe to what he called "a general, casual and pervasive social license for underage drinking". He went further to advocate for more severe penalties for MIP and associated offenses.

If the Legislature were equally serious about addressing the problem from a proactive standpoint, it would take into consideration the opinion of 135 college presidents (including Mesa State's Tim Foster) and seriously discuss eliminating the current hypocrisy concerning young adults and alcohol. This would allow both law enforcement and social service resources to focus their energies on the root of the problem, before it truly grows beyond our control.

Have a good weekend.

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