Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tragedy - Something Must Be Done

It's a terrible story. Heartbreaking.
Thirteen-year-old Michael Thomas Truluck was hanging out with friends, maybe shooting some hoops.  He sent a text to his mom, Kristina Keys, asking for a ride home.  Mary Gail Hare in the Baltimore Sun picks up the story.
"I knew he was hanging out with a bunch of friends, and there was nothing unusual about that," Kristina Keys said. "He texted and asked for a ride home. We picked him and two friends up."
Keys said she had no idea that his Saturday afternoon, which usually included lunch at a fast-food restaurant and hoops at Double Rock Park in Parkville, involved drinking an alcohol-laced energy drink, which an unidentified adult purchased for the pre-teens. The drink, Four Loko, comes in a 23.5-ounce can that is 12 percent alcohol. The drink made her son ill, she said — his friends told her he had thrown up twice before getting in the car.
About 6:15 p.m., just as the family Jeep was making a left turn onto 8300 block of Harford Road, Michael said he was again feeling sick. He took off his seat belt, opened the front passenger door, fell out of the vehicle and was struck by a Ford Explorer driving north on Harford Road.
He died later that evening.
A terrible story.  Heartbreaking. 
Michael's mother, though, doesn't just mourn.  She's inspired to reach out. She wants others to know the dangers of the drink.
She hopes others learn from her son's experience, but she fears many parents are, as she was, in denial. She said she wants to alert parents to the problem of underage drinking.
"This drink is illegal and way too powerful for kids," she said. "They all think they are invincible, but this shows them they are not."
She also urged parents to communicate with their children. "Know where they are and who their friends are," she said.
But maybe there's a lesson that can save some other child. Good for her to try and find a way to turn her loss into something that can help others.
Education can save lives.  When it's sensbile, restrained, not over the top. 
But it will be.  
After all, you know, this happens all the time.
Which is why, as WTOP notes in its story on Michael's death, 
Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler has made it clear something more needs to be done about alcohol-packed energy drinks. 
Let's be clear.  These things are alcoholic beverages.  They cannot legally be sold to people under 21 and, with certain narrow exceptions that vary (if they exist at all) at least a bit from state to state, they cannot legally be consumed by people under 21.
Of course, that doesn't stop underage consumption any more than prohibition stopped consumption period or the drug war has stopped the use of controlled substances.
And the danger.
I mean, think how often it happens
Young child gets hold of this stuff.  Gets sick.  Opens car door to vomit and falls out into traffic and gets run over.
OK, that's not altogether fair.  Four Loko has, according to a December report on WTOP,
contributed to alcohol poisonings and sexual assaults nationwide and to a woman's death in Maryland.
And it's that story WTOP links to for the claim that Gansler thinks "something more needs to be done."
But see, here's the thing.
What "needs to be done" isn't something he can do.  A new law won't help because it's not, fundamentally, a legal problem, certainly not a law enforcement problem.*
Oh, we can prohibit.  We can punish.  We can lock up the adults who give the drinks to kids.  We can lock up the kids who use them.  We can deny them benefits.  We can evict them and their families from public housing.  We can take away their college scholarships so they remain uneducated and coupled with the rest pretty well assure that they'll remain unemployed.
We can, perhaps, prevent the manufacturers from advertising and cover the drink cans with poison symbols.  We can scope and grope at the bus stop and the basketball courts.  We can leave children afraid to leave the home and parents afraid to let them.  (Hell, we already do that.  See here, for instance.)  We can prevent anyone from riding in cars.  Hell, we can get cars off the road - or allow cars but forbid drivers.  (Cars don't kill people. People kill people.)
Still someone will sell alcohol to kids or someone will buy it for them.
And still a kid will get drunk.
And still there will be an accident.
And a child will die.
And we can't change that.
No matter what child we name a new law after.
Because prohibition and criminalization isn't the answer.  It never was.  It never will be. 
Shakespeare made the point in Measure for Measure (Act II, Scene I). Pompey (a clownish but sensible servant) is being chastised by Escalus who, on behalf of Angelo (the interim ruler of Vienna) is trying to put an end to all extra-marital sex.
ESCALUS: How would you live, Pompey? By being a bawd? What do you think of the trade, Pompey? Is it a lawful trade?
POMPEY: If the law would allow it.
ESCALUS: But the law will not allow it, Pompey; nor it shall not be allowed in Vienna.
POMPEY: Does your worship mean to geld and spay all the youth of the city?
ESCALUS: No, Pompey.
POMPEY: Truly, sir, in my poor opinion they will to't then.
Which is still true.
And applies to more than just sex.
Michael Thomas Truluck (who had no luck at all). Dead at 13.
It's a terrible story. Heartbreaking.
Next week there'll be another.
We won't be able to prevent that one, either.
No matter what we do.

H/t Radley Balko and to Scott Greenfield for the footnote.
*There are, of course, those who disagree.  Consider Jack Marshall, self-appointed scold and ethicist to the universe who favors criminalizing everything that can be harmful and blames all who disagree with him for any harm caused to anyone.  (He says, for instance, that Ron Paul killed Whitney Houston because he favors drug legalization.) The sad news is that Marshall's not alone in his idiocy.

1 comment:

  1. "The sad news is that Marshall's not alone in his idiocy."

    No, almost all humans stand with him. Logical thinking is rare and may be getting rarer. Homo sapiens? I think not.