We can’t wink and turn away any more

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 1999

One teenager – obviously drunk – found passed out at the wheel of a car idling at a stoplight. Two teenagers hospitalized with alcohol poisoning during the past eight weeks. Nine arrests – eight for underage possession of alcohol or beer – at last year’s Great Mississippi River Balloon Races.

Nearly two dozen teenagers on a Mardi Gras float during a prominent downtown parade – again, obviously consuming alcohol – removed from the parade, taken to the Natchez Police Department and – for the ones who didn’t jump off the float along the way ? sent home to their parents.

And hundreds more escaping the wrath of police, parents or principals each weekend here in Natchez and Adams County.

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Underage drinking – specifically, teenage drinking -&160;is a real problem.

And we as a community, as parents, as adults can no longer simply wink and turn away, writing it off to a “rite of passage.”

It’s a problem – an illegal, highly dangerous and potentially deadly problem that our children face.

It’s a problem that crosses the boundaries of race and economic status – private school or public, it makes no difference.

And it’s a problem that few people are willing to confront for fear of social or political repercussions.

Police and the public school system are starting an educational and awareness program designed to give students the opportunity to experience the negative feelings of inebriation, without actually experiencing the drunkenness.

But that’s just the first step.

The education and awareness programs need to go to every student – in every school, public or non-public.

And, more important, the community must join the effort. It’s up to parents to teach their children not only about the dangers of underage drinking but the illegality of it. It’s up to law enforcement to uphold and enforce those laws.

And it’s up to leaders in the community to support both parents and police in their efforts and, then, to step up and speak out. We must continue to force the issue into awareness until it is resolved.

Our children are too precious for us to do any less.