Jessica Moroz, Contributing Writer
On Saturday January 28, downtown Oneonta was a lot quieter than usual. Thirty police officers raided Today’s Lounge, The Alley and The Upper Deck at the same time, finding over 200 underage drinkers. Since the sweep, all three bars have had their liquor license suspended.
While 21 is the legal drinking age, and it could be argued that the officers were just enforcing the law, many of the students who were present during the sweep objected to the way the situation was handled.
Even though the legal drinkers were in no trouble, many felt like they were being held captive. “They locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone out without showing ID” said one 22-year-old senior, who asked not to be named, and who was at the Upper Deck on the night of the raids. “I was wearing a dress, so I gave my license to my friend to put in his pocket. I lost track of him throughout the night, so when the cops came in, they thought I was underage. I explained to them, but they thought I was lying and told me I wasn’t being cooperative, and made me wait there for a long time. Eventually my friend saw me and gave my license back.”
Some underage students claim to have merely walked in, but the majority used fake licenses in order to buy alcohol. Students acknowledged the need for regulation but expressed sympathy for the bar owners. “I understand shutting a bar down if they’re letting anyone just walk in, but if someone has a license that looks authentic, the owner’s livelihood is at risk, and that’s not right,” she insisted.
Those under 21 offered statements to be used against the bar owners in their Liquor Authority trial in lieu of being arrested or receiving a ticket. They testified that they were able to get into the bars with no difficulty. There has been some debate over whether this is ethical or even permissible by law, but Attorney Joseph Kehoe stated the tactics were legal: “The police [have] a lot of discretion. If they see a minor with alcohol, they’ve committed an offense, and if the officers want to make an arrest, they can. They didn’t say, ‘make a statement or else.’”
Although some students have questioned the legality and ethicality of police actions, it appears that authorities acted within the spectrum of their rights. After consulting with the Student Association Attorney, SA President Evan Englander commented: “it all really comes down to the fact that what the [underage] students were doing was illegal.” Englander concluded that the SA will “always support students in need, but our hands are pretty much tied here.”
Still, many students felt like they were being coerced. One 19 year-old student claimed, “I felt like I had to or I’d be arrested or something. I didn’t like it, it was like they were twisting my words.”
With the recent crackdown, many bars are much stricter about checking licenses. “I’ve been double-checking ID’s for everyone that comes in” said a bouncer at a busy downtown bar. “We were always pretty careful, but even more so now. But honestly, we haven’t had too much trouble with fakes. Either people are too scared to use them or they got taken away.”
Even with tighter security at bars, Oneonta students insist this will not affect their weekend activities. “This is college, we’re going to drink. It will be more at parties and frats these days instead,” one sophomore proclaimed. Another student echoed this sentiment but voiced concern: “I’m going to parties now, but bars are so much safer. At a crazy house party, it would be so easy for someone to slip something in the punch.”