E-town alcohol policy flawed

Breanne Gilpatrick

A year and a half ago, the Evanston City Council voted to raise fines for underage drinking by more than 100 percent. And they did the same thing again last night.

For those of you who missed the campus uproar, (well, campus mumbling anyway. Who has time for an uproar during midterms?) aldermen increased fines for alcohol-related offenses last night to $500, up from $200. That’s just a year and a half after fine jumped up from $75.

I’ve heard aldermen say this town has a “Wild West situation” when it comes to underage drinking. I think we’ve got a Wild West situation when it comes to raising underage drinking fines. Last time, aldermen didn’t even make it four months before the issue started coming up again in meetings.

To be fair, aldermen added a couple of new twists this year – businesses are now liable for these fines, people under 21 won’t be allowed in certain bars after midnight – but it’s still the same problem.

And it’s starting to form a dangerous pattern: Aldermen complain about underage drinking for about a year, hike fines, wait three months. You know, they say the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results.

Now I’m going to ignore the fact that the correlation between the June 19 shooting at The Keg of Evanston and the real reasons behind these laws is practically nonexistent. I’m going to ignore the fact that compared to state schools where people are passed out in the street by 9 p.m., drinking at this school is tame. I’m going to ignore the fact that if students want to drink, they’re going to find a way to do it. And I’m going to ignore the fact that if the students of this school didn’t like this law they should have done something to stop it.

These arguments have been made already, and at least one of them has already been made by me.

Even if you assume these problems really are as bad as some residents have said they are and even if you assume something should be done, it might be good it we took the time to figure out something that might, oh, I don’t know, work.

Two aldermen even admitted to voting for last night’s changes even though they admitted that they didn’t think they would be effective.

Sure, these laws probably won’t make anything worse, and maybe they’ll even help a little. But this isn’t medicine. The Hippocratic oath “first, do no harm” isn’t enough. We don’t pass laws because laws are fun. We’re supposed to pass them because they work.

Instead of debating the legality and the popularity of its liquor law proposals with Evanston residents, the City Council should put more time and effort researching and developing effective solutions to E-town’s alcohol issues.

The city has finally gotten around to creating a strategic plan for city development. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do the same thing with some other city issues. Talk to experts, get Northwestern involved, spend an entire Saturday morning brainstorming options. It would save everyone a lot of time and maybe it just might be more effective.

Maybe it’s something to consider when this issue comes up again, you know, in about three months.

City Editor Breanne Gilpatrick is a Medill senior. She can be reached at [email protected]