Completely out of control: arresting college students for buying water

To those who still truly believe that the USA is the land of the free, this post on NPR’s blog The Two-Way┬áis nothing short of a harsh reality check. In Charlottesville, Virginia, 20-year old college sophomore Elizabeth Daly and two of her friends were approached by plainclothes Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents after purchasing a box of LaCroix bottled water, cookie dough, and ice cream. (The ABC agents thought the women had made a purchase of booze illegally.)

Elizabeth was already inside her car when the plainclothes agents showed what she described as unidentifiable badges. According to the ABC, she struck two of the agents as she drove away; later, she did stop for a marked police vehicle with lights and sirens. At which point, of course, she was arrested along with her passengers, and charged with felony eluding of police and felony assault of a police officer.

After all this, in what is to me a surprising show of good judgment, the prosecutor’s office declined to pursue the charges, leaving Elizabeth free to speak about the incident. One of the things that came to light was that this incident occurred right after a sexual assault awareness event called Take Back the Night. In that context it’s much easier to see how young women would be scared out of their wits by what happened. What are the odds the average citizen would even know specifically the difference between a valid badge and something hacked together by a would-be rapist or robber? How about someone from out of state who barely knows it’s illegal to bring their radar detector into Virginia, much less the name of the state agency responsible for regulating booze sales? How much differently would this have played out had this been someone driving from, say, Atlanta to New York City who just wanted to satisfy their passengers’ ice cream fix on the way and get some bottled water while at the grocery store?

I think the Virginia ABC looks absolutely ridiculous in light of all the facts, and I doubt I’m the only one. As an aside, I personally think the 21 drinking age is ludicrous, and has caused more problems than it solves. But that’s another, much longer, rant for another day.