Razing the Bar | Ex-Context | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Razing the Bar

Police power continues to expand

What would Doc Holliday say? My God, what would the Duke say? I'm talking about the raids the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) recently made in 36 Dallas bars that bagged 30 customers for public drunkenness. (Isn't a bar private property?)

Talk about great detective work. I mean, who'd have ever thought they'd find drunks in bars?

Like nearly everyone else, cops want their jobs to be easy. Instead of waiting for drivers to break a real law, for example, the Pennsylvania State Police want permission to pull them over solely for not wearing a seatbelts. (In Pennsylvania, you can ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but you can't drive an SUV without wearing a seatbelt.) Arresting drunks in bars is a good way to rack up a big arrest total without breaking a sweat. It's also a clever program to get cops off Dallas' dangerous streets and into nice, safe bars.

This is Texas, however, and the cops are taking some heat -- and not just from Cowboy fans who fear being hauled out of Texas Stadium on game day. Some people have compared the TABC to Mussolini's Brown Shirts and have suggested that they fly a swastika over TABC headquarters.

The TABC says it's not about the booze. No doubt inspired by the pre-emptive war in Iraq and the "preventive detention" of terrorist suspects, they claim that the operation was a "prophylactic measure" against drunk driving. They are sticking with this story even while admitting that one of the bars they raided was in a hotel -- and that some of those arrested were hotel guests who had no plans of leaving the hotel, and no access to a car if they did.

I can only guess that Dallas doesn't put a high value on convention business.

After spending a dozen or so years in the can myself, among the most striking Rip Van Winkle realizations I've had is that the country has become populated by people who believe they have the God-given right to be 100 percent safe, 24/7. I'm assuming that right must be God-given, anyway: There is no mention of safety in the U.S. Constitution, which has taken a beating at the hands of safety-obsessed types.

In this atmosphere, kids don't walk to school by themselves or ride a bike without full body armor. There's no drinking, no smoking, no drugging -- all for your own good. There's wiretapping and secret prisons and no habeas corpus rights for detainees, all in the name of keeping everyone safe, even from themselves,

The TABC has kicked it up a notch by employing the Clockwork Orange-ish tactic of arresting people before they commit a crime. Pittsburgh's finest should take note. Are too many school kids hanging around Downtown, waiting for the bus? Why not nab them in the classroom, before they get around to doing something illegal? From what I can tell, a grateful populace will cheer you.

Once the lid is off this program of pre-emptive arrests, the only limit is the imagination. If the feds would spread around a little money, I bet some scientist could find the criminal gene; then they would be able to bag all of the criminals before they did something dangerous.

Former Drug Czar Bill Bennett has already opined that aborting every black baby in America would lower crime rates. Of course, he quickly added that no one would do that, because it wouldn't be right. I have a feeling some people might be ready to give it a try.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will soon be playing the Cowboys down in the land of rugged individualism again. I recommend staying home and watching that one on TV. Even if you don't actually drink, showing up in Dallas with a Steelers jersey will make people assume you plan to.

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