When I first read this post by Dallas criminal defense lawyer Robert Guest, it evoked a huge shrug. Since I’m not a DWI lawyer, the word MADD alone doesn’t cause me to have convulsions. But the heart of the matter, as explained in Radley Balko’s Agitator post, struck me as not being such a terrible idea.
Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics – May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.
The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student’s seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour.
The program, titled “Every 15 Minutes,” was designed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its title refers to the frequency in which a person somewhere in the country dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident.
This described a dramatization, as no one was in fact killed, crafted to make a point, that in a moment of stupidity, a young life could be lost. I know the “every 15 minutes” claim to be utterly false, but being the parent of an 18 year old, I also know their sense of invulnerability and obliviousness to threat until after the unthinkable happens. Teenagers live in a cocoon that bad things will never happen to them, no matter what risks they take. As a parent, it scares me.
But after reading further, after thinking further, I realized my error. My first reaction, that there was no downside to teaching a critical lesson. Would I encourage, even accept, teenage drinking and driving? Certainly not. So what’s wrong with smacking a kid with an understanding of tragedy to make sure the point is clear?
This was a well orchestrated charade. It was intended to have the impact of making half a high school believe a friend had died, and it did. Teenagers have a fragile understanding of life and death to begin with. That’s part of the problem in trying to teach kids about serious consequences. But this was planned for maximum impact. And it served its purpose.
This MADD plan brought teenagers to the brink of hysteria and emotional despair, and then pushed them over the edge. It went too far. The police, who executed the scheme, traumatized these students in the name of safety. In the name of protecting them from harm, they caused harm.
Though the deception left some teens temporarily confused and angry, if it makes even one student think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, it is worth the price, said California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury, who orchestrates the program at local high schools.
Too simplistic. I don’t fault the officer for wanting to save a student from making a tragic mistake. But to cause them immediate, intentional emotional trauma is not worth the price. Moreover, who made it this police officer’s call to decide what price should be paid by another parent’s child?
There is a civil cause of action called “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The reason why this exists is because it is deemed wrong to do this, to deliberately cause psychological harm to another person. This scheme deliberately harmed children, and it was meant to do so in the name of a greater good. But the choice of whether a child should be harmed in the name of a good deemed sufficiently greater does not belong to the cops or to a groups of mothers with a dedicated agenda that places their issue above everyone else’s.
The lesson from Robert is how overly dedicated single-interest groups such as MADD, superficially doing something that we can all agree upon, become so myopic as to ignore the harm they cause in furtherance of their agenda. I appreciate being taught that lesson.
The lesson about the police and the officials of a public school, all employees of our government, forcing children to be unwilling participants in this scheme, is different. Both are endowed with substantial power, particularly over children, under the belief that they will exercise this power with sound discretion and in the best interest of the children.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that one of the gravest threats to the welfare of children are the cops and school officials themselves, whether by usurping the right of a parent to determine how far to go in providing guidance to their child, and manipulating young minds to adhere to their vision of morality upon pain of death.
No doubt the police officers, the school administrators, the mothers of MADD, all believe their choice to be correct and worthy. I don’t care what they believe. Raising my child is not a democracy, and they don’t get a vote. I will not defer to the lowest common denominator when it comes to making decisions about my child.