published Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

The Right Response: Thoughts on Signal police, government waste

Before answering a few of your emails, letters, Tweets and online comments, I want to sincerely thank all of the readers who send in or post comments and questions. Whether you agree or disagree with an article that appears on the Free Press opinion page, your views give me an opportunity to learn which topics you care about and how you feel about issues of the day. Your input impacts what appears on this page and helps the Free Press page to act as a community forum for discussion, rather than just a collection of watered-down editorials and dull syndicated columns, which so many opinion pages have become.

That said, it's time to address some of your questions and comments, starting with the deluge of responses I received in reaction to a Sat. May 18 editorial headlined: "Signal police should show some restraint." The editorial criticized the Signal Mountain police for arresting 17 teens for drinking at a house party, more arrests for underage drinking than all other Hamilton County police had in 2012.

If you don't enforce the law on Signal, isn't the message that high-socioeconomic communities are not treated the same as working-class neighborhoods? Are you saying that police in more affluent areas should not enforce the laws? What would your response have been if these arrests had taken place in some poor community?

These questions reflect the majority of responses to the editorial and contain two basic premises: 1.) Teens on Signal Mountain should be treated the same as teens in other areas of Hamilton County, and 2.) Cops should stick it to rich kids.

What the questions fail to recognize is that the whole point of the editorial is that Signal Mountain teens should be treated exactly the same as every other kid in Hamilton County — not worse. Since teens in other cities in Hamilton County are almost never arrested for underage drinking, teens in Signal Mountain should also almost never be arrested for underage drinking.

That's not the case, however, Signal Mountain teens are almost 50 times more likely to be arrested for underage drinking than Chattanooga teens — and that's not because Signal Mountain teenagers are 50 times more likely to drink.

That fact, which should be troubling to all readers, didn't seem to bother many folks. Why? Because many people in our area who would never think it was right to discriminate against someone because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation think its perfectly fine to act like an intolerant bigot when it comes to people who can afford to live in a nice neighborhood.

If poor kids had been arrested for underage drinking, the response would've been, "other kids in Hamilton County aren't usually arrested for drinking under age, why should these kids be targeted?" But when Signal Mountain teens who happen to attend prep schools were arrested, I was roundly attacked for daring to suggest that the police should show a little restraint.

For a community so wrapped up in teachings about forgiveness, grace and compassion, it is disappointing that so few people are willing to show those traits when it comes to something as benign as teen drinking, just because the people involved may have been born to successful parents.

If you don't think Signal Mountain cops should arrest teens for underage drinking, how should they handle drunk, loud teens having a house party?

The same way every other police department in Hamilton County generally responds to teen drinking: with stern warnings, frank discussions with parents and safe rides home.

Why don't you just push for a lower drinking age if underage drinking is such a minor issue?

Good idea. I'll do that. Until the early 1980s, the drinking age was 18 in many states. The people who benefitted from the lower drinking ages are now functioning adults and productive members of society, so it must not have been all bad. If an 18-year-old can vote and fight in the military, he or she should be able to drink, too.

  • photo
    The owner of the Atlanta Falcons wants taxpayers to help fund a new stadium.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In your "Heroes and Zeros" editorial, you applaud Common Cause Georgia. Don't you know that Common Cause is a liberal group with ties to George Soros? Why would a conservative editorial page praise such a group?

While Common Cause is generally supportive of stances opposed to limited government, free enterprise and logic, Common Cause Georgia is leading an effort that conservatives and liberals alike can agree on. The group is working to prevent tax dollars from being used to subsidize replacing the Atlanta Falcons' perfectly good stadium with a newer perfectly good stadium.

If the Falcons' billionaire owner, Arthur Blank, a co-founder of The Home Depot, wants his team to have a new stadium, he should build it, rather than forcing taxpayers into subsidizing over 20 percent of the project.

The article "Small examples of waste raise bigger concerns" condemns government agencies for wasting a few hundred dollars. Why worry about such piddling amounts?

Because they are our dollars, and every single one of my dollars and every single one of your dollars are important. Therefore they shouldn't be wasted by careless government officials. If the bureaucrats and office holders we rely on to spend our tax dollars wisely are willing to blow money on things like fancy personalized Christmas cards, late fees for unpaid bills and unnecessarily filling up government vehicles with expensive premium gas, why should they be trusted with more money?

As a show that they respect our hard-earned money, the individuals responsible for the wasteful spending highlighted by the editorial — Harold DePriest at EPB, Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton and the Bradley County Finance Department — should reimburse taxpayers (and, in EPB's case, electric customers) for the money they wasted.

— Drew Johnson

To submit a question for a future "Right Response" column, email me at:, or send a tweet to: @Drews_Views.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
AndrewLohr said...

If Signal Mtn wants its police to make its teens behave, why not let one town act that way? People who differ who can move out; people who agree can move in; teens who want to get drunk can go elsewhere. (Or, better, repent.) Freedom is not just for individuals, but for at least voluntary groupings, eh? And there's no Berlin Wall around Signal Mountain.

June 4, 2013 at 12:22 a.m.
Leaf said...

Shockingly, I agree with AndrewLohr. Don't try to force all communities to adhere to the exact same standards of policing. If Signal residents prefer to enforce certain laws that other communities ignore, then who are you to say otherwise?

If you object to these teens being punished, then why did your paper publish their pictures and create a big story? It seems to me that the way this paper exploited their misfortune was a bigger punishment than the one they received from the law.

June 4, 2013 at 12:22 p.m.
inquiringmind said...

Actually I think if you look at insurance industry statistics it shows a 21 y.o. drinking age saves lives from auto deaths. One could make a good argument (as you did) if you are 18 and have to fight in the Army you ought to be able to buy a beer; but the logical response ought to be to raise the age of majority to 21 and not allow 18-20 y.o. folks into the Army/military service. And, by the way, bring back the draft. That would stop a lot of wars in their tracks.

If you don't want to enforce underage drinking laws then call to get rid of the laws. You could have invoked the European model where children are taught how to manage alcohol from an early age, but then you might be challenged to talk about their intelligent health care models and open all sorts of cans of worms a conservative, tea party-type editorialist might not want opened.

Finally the folks who ought to be arrested and fined are the parents who let their kids hold an alcohol-laced party with no adults present. Pay a few $5,000 fines and I'll bet the number of parties will shrink.

AND, by the way, I know a lot of folks on the mountain and their kids in the prep schools; and economic bigotry seems to flow downhill not up, many of them have an elitist attitude that expects their kids to be pampered and coddled when they go astray.

June 4, 2013 at 1:18 p.m.
LibDem said...

I like lowering the drinking age. In our culture, we like to push the age of maturity back. Young adults are discouraged from taking responsibility for their lives. At 16, a boy can father a child but, in our system, he's only a child himself.("Johnny, did you get a permission slip from your Mom?")

June 4, 2013 at 2 p.m.
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