Pubdate: Thu,  8 Feb 2001
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Section: Dyer Times
Copyright: 2001 Bolder Weekly
Contact:  690 South Lashley Lane Boulder, CO 80303
Fax: (303) 494-2585
Author: Joel Dyer


First of all, let me start by saying that the death of 16-year-old Brittney 
Chambers last week was a tragic accident and I sympathize with her family 
and friends.

But as tragic as it was, Brittney's death was still an accident and nothing 
more. On her 16th birthday at a party in her own home, Brittney decided to 
take a hit of Ecstasy. For whatever reason-God, genetics, bad luck, 
whatever you want to call it-Brittney Chambers had a reaction to the drug, 
slipped into a coma, and died four days later.

That's what happened, and that's all that needs to happen.

Unfortunately, the "accident" concept no longer seems to be a viable 
explanation for anything bad that occurs in our society.

These days, when something goes wrong, it's instantly deemed part of a 
trend, the first evidence of some previously invisible epidemic that is 
threatening to wipe our species from the planet if we don't do something 
fast. Most times that "something" involves politicians creating new laws or 
harsher sentences. It's as if we believe that by blaming and punishing 
someone when accidents occur we can transform such incidents into something 
less random, more manageable and less likely to strike ourselves or our 
loved ones.

The media is certainly complicit if not directly to blame for this sense 
that everything is a part of some larger conspiracy to which blame can and 
should be attached.

A college student gets raped and murdered in Costa Rica and we run the 
headline "Are U.S. Exchange Students Safe?" Never mind that the statistics 
tell us they are safer than students here at home. People used to get 
pissed off while driving their cars, but now they make the news as the 
latest example of a social plague we call "road rage." So it should come as 
no surprise that when a young girl dies from a fluke reaction to an illegal 
drug, it gets billed as the tip of an Ecstasy iceberg that is threatening 
to destroy our nation's youth.

The idea of personal responsibility has been replaced by a theory that 
everything happens as a result of someone else's actions.

People use to go to bars and get drunk, and when they broke the law, they 
got arrested.

End of story.

But now we file charges against the waitress who served the drinks, the 
bartender who poured them and the owner of the establishment. There was a 
time when the person who actually shot somebody with a gun was held solely 
responsible. Now we sometimes arrest the person who sold, gave or loaned 
the shooter the gun, even if he didn't know how it would be used. We file 
charges against anyone who knew that the bad guy had a gun and didn't stop 
him. We even file suit against the company that manufactured the damned 
gun. Nobody hates guns as much as I do, but what's next? Do we give the guy 
on the assembly line that polishes trigger mechanisms three to five for 
showing up at work?

Which brings me back to Brittney's case. Let's put it into perspective. A 
16-year-old girl did something stupid, which means she was a pretty normal 
kid. She and her friends were experimenting with drugs.

And before you put your hand over your mouth and feign a gasp, think back 
real hard, because unless you're over 70, a real nerd, or spent your 
teenage years living in a bubble, you probably did the same thing once upon 
a time. In the big picture, little has changed over the years except the 
names of our youthful experiments. What we called MDA has become known as 
Ecstasy. True, it is in greater demand now than back then, but that's 
attributable to its status as the new drug du jour.

As trendy drugs go, Ecstasy is actually one of the safest to come along in 
a while.

Far fewer people are dying from Ecstasy than was the case with crack, 
heroin, acid, meth or even cocaine.

So is Ecstasy an epidemic?

It's certainly the most popular drug among teenagers these days, but wait 
five minutes and something new will come along.

Like fashion trends, such drugs come and go and there really isn't a hell 
of a lot we can do about it. If we have learned anything from the war on 
drugs, it's that our kids are the same as we were. They don't listen.

After spending billions of dollars and putting millions of people behind 
bars, just as many kids are experimenting with drugs now as ever before.

I'm not condoning their actions in any way and God knows I hope my son is a 
nerd lest I have to put him in a bubble, but kids will be kids when it 
comes to experimenting, and accidents will continue to happen.

It's a sad reality that makes what we do next in the Brittney Chambers case 
that much more important.

The police have arrested six people in connection with Brittney's death: 
four juveniles, an 18-year-old girl named Rebecca Sheffield and her 
20-year-old boyfriend Travis Schuerger. So what should we do with these six 
young people?

Should we destroy six more lives under the guise of "sending a message" 
about the dangers of Ecstasy, a message that every study ever conducted 
tells us will not accomplish a single thing?

In the case of the four juveniles, do we take these kids who were just 
trying to have fun at a birthday party-granted in a stupid fashion-away 
from their families and put them behind bars? Will our children be safer 
because these kids are sitting in a juvenile, or heaven forbid, adult 
criminal justice system where they will, without question, become mentally 
scarred for the rest of their lives?

And what should we do about young Sheffield and Schuerger if they are 
convicted? Do we punish them for dispensing four hits of Ecstasy, or do we 
really punish them for Brittney's death?

Since the Ecstasy was sold on school property, the two are facing up to 24 
years in prison.

The reality is that had Brittney not died, the maximum sentence wouldn't 
even be a consideration.

Will spending $1.5 million of our tax dollars to guarantee that Rebecca and 
Travis are systematically beaten, raped and otherwise physically and 
mentally tortured for a couple of decades before being released back into 
our midst really serve some greater good? Heaven forbid we spend $10,000 to 
at least try and get them help through counseling, rehab, boot camp or any 
of the other programs that have actually been proven to rehabilitate young 
offenders such as these two.

But the truth is, these more effective, more cost efficient alternatives to 
prison wouldn't serve the real purpose here. The real purpose here is that 
somebody has to be punished for the fact that Brittney decided to swallow 
that pill and died, because if no one is punished, it means that no one is 
to blame.

And if no one is to blame, it means that accidents really do happen.

And if accidents happen, it means that we might just wake up tomorrow, go 
to work, not do anything wrong, and yet, something terrible could still 
happen to us. It would mean that we are not in control-and that's a scary 
proposition for most of us.

Brittney Chamber's death was a tragic accident.

Causing six more lives to be destroyed will not bring her back or prevent 
anyone else from dying. Whatever happens to those few whose hands touched 
the tiny pill before Brittney chose to swallow it, one thing is for sure: 
it won't be an accident.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D