As most of you are aware by now, they’re busting people inside of bars in Texas for drinking. That’s pretty much the same as arresting people at Wal-Mart for shopping or busting people at church for worshipping. The Houston Chronical gives us the up-to-date count:
More than 2,200 people have been arrested in Texas bars in the six months since the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced a crackdown on public intoxication, primarily targeting bars.
Quite a few people are calling this a preemptive war against drunk drivers. Radley Balko details:“The March to Neoprohibition.” George W. Bush, the former governor of Texas, has certainly set the stage, as Jon Swift
Recently, President Bush reaffirmed his doctrine of “preemptive war.” The President’s rationale for preemptive war is a simple one: Prevent terrorist attacks before they happen by invading countries that might possibly be loosely linked to potential suspected terrorists. Already his ideas are having far-reaching effects in unexpected ways. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has decided to follow the President’s lead by launching preemptive assaults against would-be drunk drivers in order to stop drunk driving accidents before they happen. Their unique and ingenious solution: Arrest people in bars for being drunk.
The Boston Globe has a good take on the Fourth Amendment implications:
The next step in the crackdown will be letting the police take the blood samples themselves-something Texas and Utah are already trying. ”Would you want a police officer to stick a hypodermic in you?” asks Taylor.
But the point of his crusade, Taylor says, is not saving drunk drivers from a clumsy jab with a needle. It’s not really about drunk drivers at all. Taylor believes that a series of Supreme Court decisions upholding harsh drunken driving laws means that authorities can now abridge civil liberties almost at will, as long as they invoke public safety. The decisions affect the defendant’s right to a jury trial, to examine evidence, to confront an accuser, and, perhaps most notably, to be free from self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure.
Taylor thinks the implications extend far beyond cases of driving under the influence to all areas of criminal law, including murder trials, and even to the measures taken by the Bush administration in the war on terror. Taylor likes to close his stump speech with a humorous paraphrase of Martin Niemoeller’s famous warning about creeping fascism-“First they came for the drunks, but I was not a drunk, so I did not speak up”-but he’s quite serious. ”Law is based on precedent,” he warned. ”When you start dismantling constitutional protections, you’re setting precedents. I don’t think people understand what we’re doing constitutionally.”
The Dallas Morning Newsabout how the arrests are made:
So no blood alcohol or breathalyzer tests are required, and convictions — usually class C misdemeanors, with fines but no jail time; often depend on officers’ observation of certain symptoms: slurred speech, staggering or loss of balance, bloodshot eyes.
And as with drunken driving, Ms. Beck said, police don’t have to wait for a person to harm somebody or themselves to make an arrest.
“Lots of people drive under the influence every day and get home without hurting anybody,” she said. “It’s the likelihood that you’ll hurt somebody if you’re driving drunk: that’s why they made it illegal.”
Mike Lessard, 45, was arrested at Texas Bar & Grill on Las Colinas Boulevard and also spent the night in jail.
He said he was having a pleasant evening, downing a few beers after work, when a plainclothes officer summoned him outside to be arrested.
“I had no idea that some guy could just tap me on the shoulder and say they’d like to see us outside,” the Irving resident said. “I was thrown by the whole thing. I didn’t know they had any right to do that.”
Mr. Lessard, they don’t have the right. Even if the courts end up upholding TABC actions, they don’t have any right to invade private property and arrest people for something they might or might not do later.
I was sitting in a bar in Alabama last night where the staff and patrons there were livid about the goings-on in Texas. WorldNetDaily provides some typical responses from “the people”:
“Your state sucks!” one woman being arrested shouted to authorities, as she was caught on camera by KXAS-TV, the local NBC affiliate in Fort Worth. “This is reminiscent of a police state action. Completely out of line. What’s next? Coming into our houses and arresting us?” “I think this is insanity. Being drunk in a bar is not public intoxication. The legislative intent of those statutes obviously was not to criminalize drinking in a bar. Will someone please put together a class action lawsuit against states that go nuts?” “I hope somebody sues the s— out of them. I thought the law was about public intoxication. These people were in a private establishment and should not have been arrested unless/until they went out on a public street.”
The Daily Record advises:
BEST cross the Lone Star State off your holiday list now. Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk.
I’m considering traveling to Texas. If I make it there, I’ll be meeting with a lot of old friends and family members in Houston, Austin and Dallas — staying in hotels most of the time. Trips like this usually mean a lot of restaurant meals spent catching up on each other’s lives and reliving old times — activities which are accompanied by alcohol for most Americans. I’m not buying plane tickets until TABC backs down, though.
One bar owner recently left a comment at HoT:
As a bar owner, I can say it is completely ridiculous. Yes, TABC can come into my establishment, hand-pick any patron/employee and give them a “field sobriety” test right there on the spot. In turn, they will make a call to the DA, yes, at that very moment, and if the DA wants to press charges they take you to jail. No questions asked, and there is nothing you can do about it. The best part? My bartender was arrested and taken to jail at 2:20 a.m. Yes, after the bar was closed. He was having a beer while counting his tips. The reason? Consuming and serving. Even though no patrons were in the bar.
This new law isn’t only directed to public facilities; if you’re in your own HOME and are in view of the public (have your curtains open), and you’re intoxicated, you can be arrested for public intoxication. Yes, that analogy is extreme and the chances of that happening is rare. But it is legal.
I’d say it’s time to do a couple of things. As I suggested yesterday, one thing we can do is keep the TABC buffoons too damned busy to engage in these ludicrous raids. You can e-mail their complaint line, call their complaint line at 888-843-8222, or call the TABC executive department at 512-206-3221. I’ve received several copies of e-mails, and would have laughed my ass off if the situation wasn’t so serious. Keep ’em coming.
The bars I hit last night were filled with sympathetic people. Only a few didn’t already know about the situation in Texas. Several people have suggested sit-ins and drink-ins to protests. If you live outside of Texas, why not go to a local bar and raise a toast to your compatriots in Texas who are likely to get busted tonight. It might help raise awareness of the situation and further bombard the Texas authorities with angry phone calls and e-mails.
If I lived in Texas, I know what I’d be doing tonight. In the spirit of our founding fathers (who were also known to frequent a tavern or two), I’d be exercising my free slurred speech rights by assembling peaceably in a bar with imbibers to petition the government for a redress of our grievances.