FHP’s Crackdown and the Prohibitionist Politics of Drunk Driving: A Dissent
FlaglerLive | July 6, 2012
By Darrell Smith
So, the Florida Highway Patrol sees fit to send 40 troopers and cars as well as two airplanes on this beautiful Friday to patrol I-95 from Flagler County to the Georgia border, a six-fold increase over normal patrolling manpower. The Hell with the cost, I feel so much safer now.I am pretty sure I will be nowhere near I-95 this weekend. I will stay away because like any sensible American here in the land of the free and the home of the brave in the 21st century, I know that I have much better odds of the FHP screwing up my life than any criminal or drunk driver.
Just ask anyone of the millions of lawbreakers who will drive this weekend, celebrating our freedoms, and blowing over 0.08 into the magic machine. But we roll the dice anyway. We bet we’re safely operating a vehicle as others like us have done billions of times over the years after two or three drinks, hoping they don’t become one of the unlucky winners of the Breath-O-Lizer Lottery. The same gamble that cost their unlucky family members, friends and co-workers their bank account and jobs and made them criminals without them actually hurting anyone as our lawmakers force transgressors to transfer all their money to the bank accounts of local governments and attorneys. In this quest for justice we make sure we ruin drivers’ lives as well as the lives of their families, take away their ability to make a living and put them in jail if they do not pay.
Before you all rush to the keyboard to scream at this blasphemy and the irrefutable knowledge that has been drilled into your head for the last three decades that we must protect the children, please, stop. Take a deep breath.
I am not talking about the alcoholic idiot who has six accidents and five DUIs and still gets behind the wheel falling-down drunk. Or the kid who chugs half a fifth and murders a family on its way to a birthday party with an overpowered Chevy Nova, as happened to my cousin and his new wife in the 1970s. I’m talking about ruining the lives of good working folks who stop off for a beer or three coming home from work, good, normal citizens going out to celebrate a wedding, birthday or weekend or just living a normal life and exercising that “pursuit of happiness” right we all are supposed to have. And somehow they seem to consistently, responsibly and predictably manage to safely make their way home.
In other words, we are talking about making criminals of you and me and everyone you know who has committed this crime at one time or another. Almost every one of us has home after two drinks and was, by law, committing a serious criminal offense. All of us except for Mormons and teetotalers.
We’ve been so indoctrinated for the last 30 years that we forget it was not always such a cut and dried criminal and evil offense. Candy Lightner changed that when she took her personal tragedy and turned it into a crusade to channel her grief.
David Hanson relates the story: “On May 3, 1980, Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was walking in her residential neighborhood in Fair Oaks, Calif., on her way to a church carnival when she was struck from behind by a drunk driver who briefly passed out, came to and drove off after killing the girl. Cari’s body was thrown 125 feet and was so badly mutilated that her organs could not be donated. The crime was committed by a repeat DUI offender who’d been released on bail for a hit-and-run drunk driving crash two days before he killed Cari, his fifth offense in four years.Candy Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in her den on May 7, 1980, four days after the tragedy and a day after Cari’s funeral. That’s when she discovered that the offender, who had been caught, would probably not receive any time in jail, much less any time in prison, for his crime. ‘I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead,’ Lightner later wrote.”
Who could possibly resist a crusader with a story like that? Well, not the Reaganites who were looking for a reason to increase the federal funding for police and their numbers on the streets. It nicely tied into the War on Drugs, criminalizing something that was previously normal but suddenly dangerous, illegal and immoral. We Must Protect the Children.
Insurance companies got on board when they tripled premiums for these new criminals. The money rolled in to Lightner’s new organization. Millions in government grants, insurance companies helping with money and staff, even hiring a consulting company to suggest changing the mane from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to MADDriving. Better, don’t ya think?
And a nationwide movement was born to lobby every statehouse to come to their senses and Protect the Children or lose federal highway construction money. They were compelled to increase the drinking age from 18 to 21, overturning changes made by a lot of states during the Vietnam war when people wondered: “If the kid can go overseas and die fighting at 18, how can we tell him he’s still not old enough to have a beer before he leaves?”
Blood-alcohol limits fluctuated across the nation. And blowing into a Smith and Wesson Breathalyzer known to be a piece of inaccurate, expensive but unquestionable and unchallengeable federally funded crap was found somehow in no way to violate 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination. Lightner, to her eternal credit, raised a voice against a different kind of madness. “This,” she said, “isn’t what I intended.”
“The man who killed my daughter kept on driving drunk,” Lightner told Health magazine. “He has since been arrested several more times. In each case his blood alcohol content has been .20 or above. A small segment of our drinking/driving population causes the majority of the fatalities. So why aren’t we going after them?” She said: “If you want to save lives, raise your driving age. Lower the speed limit! Both of these do more than this does. This is a feel-good, do-nothing law.”
Lightner wanted police “concentrating their resources on arresting drunk drivers—not those drivers who happen to have been drinking. She left MADD, saying the organization she created became “far more neo-prohibitionist than I ever wanted or envisioned. I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”
I said when they first criminalized this common everyday act that for the first time in the history of this nation, you could become a convicted felon not for some harm that you actually did to any person or government organization. For the first time in the history of America, you were a criminal because you theoretically increased the likelihood that you may cause harm to yourself or someone else. You didn’t hurt anyone. But you might. Just how in hell does this rise to the level of a felonious criminal act?
This is the salient point, because it was a step that increased the power of the American government that made us the police state we are enabling as a norm today. That leads us all back to this FHP show of force from 10 a.m. 6 p.m. today, a normal Friday, and to read this article without batting an eye. Despite the fact that we are daily bombarded with warnings about how broke we are, how we need to close the libraries and lay off teachers, we don’t dare question this deployment of a small army on our highway.
It’s a show of force worthy of Germany’s Brownshirts, backed up by two assistants from the air and countless civilian accomplices on the ground. You have a small chance of being harmed by a criminal or a drunk driver. But if you have an ounce of sense, you’d better fear the police more, and remember Benjamin Franklin’s words: “A People willing to trade Freedom for Security will receive and deserve neither.”
Darrell Smith is a Flagler Beach business owner and occasional contributor. He comments at FlaglerLive as NortonSmitty. Reach him by email here.