The St. Patrick's Day Problem
Erin Go Braugh! Raise your pint of Guinness and toast to the spirit of Saint Patrick! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! May it be a fantastic and awesome day filled with Bagpipes, Guinness and enough Jameson to fill the Hudson River! What can better encapsulate what we think of St. Patrick’s Day than by the words of Boston’s own favorite sons, and no, I’m not talking about Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
Although singing Dropkick Murphy, particularly today, makes for an awesome excuse to sing a great drunkards anthem or as an awesome accompaniment to last call at every bar across the US, it also highlights the dichotomy of Saint Patrick’s Day. We drink and celebrate but at the same time, the drunken debauchery still occurs and doesn’t get reported until we read the police blotter the next morning with our morning coffee.
Hell, I love St. Patrick’s Day and was in attendance for 2 Day Longs meant to celebrate the holiday, but there is a dark side to the debauchery that never really gets discussed. The first day long I went to… lets just say it was bad:
State Patty's Day 2011 was indeed the busiest State Patty's yet for police, who made 234 criminal arrests over the unsanctioned drinking-holiday weekend, the department reported Monday. Borough police made 160 arrests during State Patty's Day weekend last year. Overall calls for borough police service grew this year, too, climbing to 480 from last year's total of 365, police said. Incident reports for the period -- from noon Friday through noon Sunday -- include 14 DUI arrests, 14 alcohol overdoses […], and 34 disorderly people. The reports also include 65 open-container violations, 51 underage-drinking incidents, 24 loud-party and other noise calls, 20 public-drunkenness cases, 11 instances of public urination and 10 reports of fighting.
This makes the debauchery sound like an awesome time, right? The second day long I went to was in Hoboken… and they were far worse off when the damage finally accounted for. It is the only time I have ever seen the fines be blatantly changed in order to coerce cooperation when out in public. Traditionally, in New Jersey, every public intoxication case is handled on the basis of the circumstances surrounding it. On St. Patrick’s Day, in Hoboken, the fines are handed out with at least $2,000 in fines and fees and 30 days of Community Service. Even with the ridiculous fines, people were still out drinking, partying and causing trouble… lots of trouble. I saw the cops out giving fines, and rightfully so, to people who were drunk and shitty at 8:30 in the morning. If you’re that gone that early, you shouldn’t be pretending that you know how to go hard in the first place anyways. What got me, however, was the total amount of damage done on one day.
We’ve all drank and we all know that things can get a little out of hand, but how do you balance the celebratory nature with the necessity of protecting the public? I’m not saying that extreme amounts of legislation on St. Patrick’s Day are necessary nor am I implying that we should allow the chaos to just happen without care. Do we take the rights of the individuals away and prevent them from having fun or do we let them go unchecked? Do we ask more from our police and firefighters or do we assume that people can care for themselves?
There’s no right or wrong answer, just eventual changes to next year’s celebration. It’s just a matter of what changes you want to make. So what do you do if you are the one in charge? How would you handle the fine balancing act between letting people engage in something they can, presumably, legally do in drinking and preventing them from doing something that breaks the law? At what point would you draw the line?