Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The TABC Should Be "Barred" From Doing This

Lost in all the uproar over immigration this past week was another story that I wanted to mention, especially since it took place here in Dallas: The recent stepped-up enforcement of public intoxication laws by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). In case you missed the story, they've been sending undercover officers into bars in the area and arresting people whom they determined to be intoxicated, in an alleged effort to keep people from driving drunk or "being a danger to themselves and others." The only problem is, some of the arrests were taking place before the patrons had even left the building, and one poor guy was arrested in the bar of the hotel where he was staying. (That guy later lost his job because of the arrest, by the way.)

Needless to say, this has a lot of people up in arms. The business community is concerned, because this story (which has of course already traveled far and wide via the Internet) has the potential to scare off some of the high-dollar convention business that the city is hoping to attract:
Dallas restaurateur Al Biernat, who gets as much as 20 percent of his business from convention attendees, said he hasn't had any sting operations in his bar, but worries that news about the actions send a message of intolerance to potential visitors.

"There's a perception throughout the country that Dallas has a witch hunt going on," Mr. Biernat said.

And Mr. Biernat is concerned that it could hurt the progress the city has made in attracting conventions.

"Dallas is at a key point where things are starting to turn around," Mr. Biernat said. "I'd hate to see anything slow it down."
Legislators are also hearing an earful from their constituents--so much so that the subject will be discussed right after lawmakers return to Austin next month.

Please understand something: I didn't post this story because I'm the kind of person who likes to go get schnockered in a bar and then hit the road. As a matter of fact, I'm the friend who wrestles car keys away from people and/or makes them spend the night if they've had too much to drink (not that the situation has even come up recently). But I know the mentality of government bureaucrats who are--for lack of a better term--intoxicated with their own power, and I fear that there's just too much potential for abuse here. Besides, it's totally a judgement call on the agents' part, and who's to say that a group of people whom the agents perceive to be drunk and disorderly are in fact engaged only in the typical rowdy camaraderie found in virtually any pub in the world?

I'm also concerned for another reason: Anytime the TABC goes undercover, it creates the potential for club owners to overreact, which makes it even more likely that people under 21 won't get to hear live music. I've written at length on this subject before, and I feel just as strongly about it now as I did then. The last thing that musicians need is one more reason for club owners to make their shows age-restricted.

It'll be interesting to see how the discussion in the Legislature turns out, because, while the TABC's heart (if a bureaucracy can indeed have one) is in the right place, I know of very few people who are in favor of this particular method of achieving the desired outcome.

Updates, get yer updates here: Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on Monday's immigration post (and I would've said that even if you hadn't all agreed with me so far). Evidently, today wasn't quite as crazy in terms of school walkouts, though a few did happen...and I'm happy to see that some school districts are finally cracking down on the protestors by offering in-school suspensions in addition to the slap-on-the-wrist unexcused absences that had been given out for the first few days.

Also, check out what Ernie Brown had to say on the subject yesterday morning; he sums up the whole thing beautifully in a mere sixty seconds.


Gary P. said...

TABC's rhetoric of wanting to arrest drinkers before they became drunk drivers is curious to me. I don't have to wonder too long what would happen to any local police chief who said his department was targeting minorities and was going to arrest them before they committed any crimes.

Eric Grubbs said...

I'm glad Ernie mentioned this on his show: this TABC crackdown is like Minority Report. Obviously we all race down the same slippery slopes when we have a sip of alcohol, so it's good to have people arrest innocent people before the crime occurs. :-)

Shawn said...

I thought the exact same thing with Minority Report.

Does that mean they'll arrest me the night before I'm 21?

ha. An arrest record can not be good!

Anonymous said...

I hate to be this person, but public intoxication is illegal, whether we like it or not. Bars = public. I think the reason there is such an "uproar" is that MANY people have gotten drunk in bars MANY times and nothing happened. But now that they're actually enforcing the law, people get mad. But really it was just not being enforced before.

It's reminds me of illegal music downloads. Everyone was doing it. Then when people started getting in trouble for it people went nuts.

I guess in more broad terms, society got used to doing something one way, even though it technically was illegal. Then when it starts getting cracked down on, people get mad because they're used to it being a certain way.

So maybe lawmakers are somewhat to blame for not really enforcing the public intoxication thing until now. But that never gave anyone the right to get drunk in a bar.

Also, just over 2 weeks ago I was in an auto accident with a drunk driver. So I like the idea of stopping them before they do any damage.


Kev said...

Andrew--I agree with the concepts you're talking about, and I understand where you're coming from in terms of the recent encounter with Drunk Girl...but what I'm saying is that this particular method is not the way to go about solving the problem. It's not like the TABC agents are sworn peace officers administrating field sobriety tests; they're simply going after people who look drunk. This seems uncomfortably similar to police officers who stop motorists for the heinous offenses of Driving While Black or Driving While Teenaged.

I don't think the Minority Report analogy made by Eric and Shawn above is that out-of-line. If government agents had a slightly better track record of not abusing their power, I'd be more on board with this, but for now, I'd rather stick to my belief that the government should pretty much defend our borders and maybe "make the trains run on time" and otherwise leave people alone.

Anonymous said...

What is public intoxication? One drink, two, three? A certain blood-alcohol level? If we do not want public intoxication, should we just not sell alcohol in "public" places? Not sell alcohol at all? And then let’s get rid of cigarettes, French fries, and anything else that is bad for us while we are at it. *end rant

That having been said, isn't this just a prohibition movement by those who believe alcohol should be banned period? I am not sure I can go out and have 2 drinks and then laugh out loud at a joke as I normally would completely sober and not get arrested. Isn't it the owner’s job to monitor their patrons for public intoxication?

Aren’t there more pressing issues for our law enforcement officers to be working on than if someone has a few drinks in a legal alcohol serving establishment? F*S - there are people drunk in topless clubs all over the state! Why not start there (instead of a hotel bar) where there are several other illegal things going on at the same time?

Sigh - I'm done.

P.S. I have rarely in my life been drunk in public (or drunk period) and agree very much with Kev about drinking in general