Wondering About 40’s, Alcohol-Related Harm and AB 1694

Posted on 22 March 2010

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By Mark Carlson
Lutheran Office of Public Policy

No Cussing Week, Mardi Gras, Beer Week and St. Patrick’s Day have come and gone, but the shock waves from the outrageous Compton Cookout near UC San Diego continue to reverberate.  I did not have to see the disturbing scene in The Blind Side to know about 40’s.  I’ve picked up my share of empties on church grounds, broken and intact. I speculated that “kegs of Natty” offered to the Cookout partygoers, along with 40’s, referred to Natural Ice.  

In consulting with my resident expert (my son, UCLA 2009), he advised that Natty was most likely Natural Light, a less poisonous-tasting brew that is the choice for Beer Pong. (Early-on at UCLA, I pointed out a building that said “Christ-centered fraternity” near his residence hall; he noted the frat next door played Beer Pong at 8:30 in the morning).  Beer Week included what was reported to be an “anger and alcohol” fueled riot in Berkeley, and concluded with the death of a San Diego sheriff’s deputy, chasing an alleged wrong-way drunk driver.

A number of years ago I read, in a theological essay in Christian Century, an assertion that we are entitled to a “visceral goddamn” once in a while.  I have felt and uttered a visceral expletive on occasion, on 9/11, when a Buck Trust scholar at Cal who played a season of baseball with my son was gunned down in Oak Park, when a drunk driver took out four young people on South Land Park Drive, when another took out six family members on a highway north of Sacramento, and when law enforcement officers were killed in Fresno County and San Diego County.  

I confess that recent bar-related mayhem (fatalities in Folsom and Hayward, stabbings in Elk Grove) has not brought me to the level of visceral expletives.  Nor have the racist, sexist, and cruel caricatures of the Compton Cookout invitation.  No one died, unlike the high profile tragedy over near San Diego State in October 2008, when Luis Santos’ life was taken, allegedly by a group of young men from the Sacramento area who were reported to have been drinking beer before the fatal incident.   The Cookout brought to mind the alcohol-fueled Mardi Gras riot in San Luis Obispo in 2004.

In watching the 35-minute press conference held by legislators to rightfully denounce the Compton Cookout, I noticed a number of Assembly Health Committee members, several of whom voted No or Abstained when Assembly Member Jim Beall’s alcohol fee proposal was defeated in January.  With the focus on racism and sexism, there was no mention of 40’s, kegs of Natty, or shock – shock! – that underage drinking might have taken place.  

One assembly member observed that youth are not embracing the lessons of history that many of us thought have brought us to a place of greater harmony and respect.  I missed the March 4th March Forth rally for education at the Capitol, en-route to Selma for the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.  As I stood on the holy ground where Rep. John Lewis was severely beaten, where Rev. James Reeb was clubbed, where Viola Liuzzo was shot out on the highway from Montgomery, I did not feel a visceral expletive, but I did wonder with sadness how a Compton Cookout, or a noose hung in a university library, could be conceived.

I also wonder why Republicans, who claim the high ground on public safety, and Democrats, who claim the high ground on health and human services, have not yet done the math and connected the dots and found a way to mitigate the damage to human health (and education) already done by the 2009 budget deals, by counting the cost and charging the alcohol industry a bit more to mitigate the harm done by alcohol addiction and abuse.   I wonder if they will seize another opportunity by supporting Mr. Beall’s current AB 1694 fee bill.  Its passage will surely help avoid further damage as another budget day of reckoning approaches, and save jobs that help and heal and teach.

Mark Carlson is the Director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy.