Archive for August 10th, 2005

The Road to Prohibition

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

In a post some time ago, I wrote that the ultimate goals of Mothers Against Drunk Driving lay well beyond lowering DUI levels to .08%, .05% and ultimately to .01%.  The ultimate goal is, simply, resurrecting the failed experiment of prohibition.

The first step, of course, would be a gradual shift of focus away from drinking and driving to one of just drinking.  And the logical starting point would be the more politically-acceptable target of underage drinking.

I mentioned in the post that in 1999, MADD’s National Board of Directors unanimously voted to change the organization’s mission statement to include the prevention of underage drinking. Not underage drinking and driving — just drinking.  Thus, this huge (annual revenues over $49 million) and politically powerful organization formally shifted its focus away from “drunk driving” and towards the broader “problem” of drinking.

Where does this lead us?  How about laws that authorize the police to stop American citizens under 21 on the streets or even in their homes and force them to submit to breath tests or face arrest?  Exaggeration?  Even paranoia?  Consider the following news release:

DETROIT, August 8 - In a case with far-reaching implications for young adults and minors throughout the state, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit today challenging a state law that allows police to force pedestrians under the age of 21 to take a Breathalyzer test without first obtaining a search warrant.

“It is time to stop the widespread practice in this state of punishing young people who are walking down the street for refusing to submit to a Breathalyzer test,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The Constitution is clear – no search warrant, no Breathalyzer. Police cannot force pedestrians to submit to an unconstitutional search.”

Michigan is the only state in the country to make it illegal for young adults and minors who are not driving to refuse a Breathalyzer test when the police do not have a search warrant.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two Saginaw Countywomen who were forced by Thomas Township police to submit to breath tests although they had not been drinking, as well on behalf of and two Mount Pleasant men forced to do the same by an interagency police task force that refers to itself as the “Party Patrol.”

Katie Platte was 19 years old when she went to a small party in Thomas Township in July 2004 in honor of a high school classmate who had enlisted in the Marines and was leaving for Iraq. In spite of the fact that Platte was not drinking any alcoholic beverages, the Township police told her and others at the party that if they refused to take a breath test they would go to jail.

“I wasn’t drinking or causing a problem,” said Platte, now an honors student at Saginaw Valley State University. “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but in this case young people are assumed guilty until they prove they’re innocent by having to take a Breathalyzer test.”

According to Platte, the police in Thomas Township are known to frequently break up parties attended by young adults and force everyone at the party under the age of 21 to submit to Breathalyzer tests. University police officers recently raided an apartment in the building where she lives and forced all of those under the age of 21 to submit to Breathalyzer tests without a warrant, even though they were not driving or under arrest.

A second plaintiff, Ashley Berden, was 18 when she attended a party at a friend’s house to celebrate her graduation from Swan Valley High School. After she left the party, Thomas Township police officers arrived and found her purse, which she had forgotten. The police came to Berden’s house at 4:00 a.m., woke up her family and demanded that she take a Breathalyzer test. The police did not have a warrant and informed Berden that she would be violating the law if she refused the test. The test registered a .00 percent blood-alcohol level, indicating that Berden had not been drinking.

To paraphrase a German priest’s pre-WWII quote in a past post, “First they came for those under 21, but I was not under 21 so I did not speak up….”

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