Monday, July 1, 2013

UVA student arrested for buying water

I haven't been doing a good job of breaking the blogging hiatus... not sure why. I regularly think about things I want to write about, but have a hard time getting around to it. Perhaps the world is moving faster.

Anyway, today's subject is a case in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a coed was arrested for fleeing arrest after attempted apprehension by several plainclothes Virginia Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) enforcement agents.

Apparently the ABC agents mistook a carton of bottled water for beer in a darkened parking lot and attempted to apprehend Elizabeth Daly, 20, a student at the University of Virginia. Ms. Daly was fearful the six agents were not legitimate law enforcement officers and were trying to assault her. After all, it was a dark parking lot and she was walking to her car with a carton of bottled water.

She apparently reached her car and got in, where the ABC agents flashed "unidentifiable" badges and demanded she surrender. When she started the vehicle in order to lower the electric windows, the agents became violent, jumped on the car, drew their weapons, and reportedly attempted to break into the vehicle.

At this point, understandably frightened, Ms. Daly drove off, while her passenger literally crawled into the back seat, screaming "go-go-go", in an attempt to escape their apparent assailants.

She was then chased (while she was trying to call 911) by a different ABC agent in a vehicle, who pulled her over with the blue lights. At this point, she realized her assailants were, in fact, public servants, and was profusely apologetic for attempting to flee. The ABC arrested her, charged her with three felonies, and put her in jail.

This was in April. This story only came out this week when the local District Attorney dropped the charges against Ms. Daly, while defending the actions of the ABC agents who threatened, assaulted, and chased her in the first place.

OK.... perhaps at this point you're wondering if you read this all correctly...

SIX Agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control surrounded and accosted a 20-year-old coed in a dark grocery store parking lot because they wrongly believed wrongly she possessed a 12-pack of beer.

Does this make any sense to anyone? Is it okay to accost a young woman in a dark parking lot, with overwhelming, violent force, for possession of beer? Don't they have anything better to do?

I suspect there was more going on here - training, someone trying to make some kind of point, some kind of warped out-of-control enthusiasm for enforcement of the drinking age in Virginia, or something.

This young lady was 20 years old. Not many years ago, it was legal to drink beer at age 20 in most states. I don't remember that being a Bad Thing. In fact, the world seemed to be a better place when 18 year old college students could drink beer legally. When a college student having a beer was legal, as opposed to the equivalent crime to using marijuana or cocaine, the world seemed to be a kinder, gentler place.

But the question that really sticks with me is how did the six ABC agents know the young lady walking to her car in a dark parking lot was under age 21? When they couldn't tell what kind of beverage she had in her bag? Did they simply assume she was underage and in possession of beer because she was at the grocery store? If so, is that something we want law enforcement to do? Should they not have had a little more probable cause (since she was, in fact, innocent) before jumping on her car and drawing their weapons?

Ultimately I'm interested about what this case really says about our society. Does a majority of Americans support this sort of thing? By this "sort of thing", I mean hyper-aggressive enforcement of the drinking age. Does criminalizing 20-year-olds for drinking beer really make society better? If so, I'm not seeing it. What I am seeing is a degradation in the legitimacy of the rule of law, especially among the young.

I've seen this before: where young people, confronted with such hypocrisy and contradiction, lose trust, confidence, and respect for many or all public institutions. It isn't a situation we want.

The current generation is very passive - they will generally say and do whatever necessary to get along, then they tune out and do what they want. Time will tell what kind of adults they will be. I'm afraid the example that was set for them, however, is among the worst in modern history.