Monday, April 13, 2009

Drunken Fights and Digital Photos

April 13, 2009, 9:30 a.m.; April 16, 2009, 10:00 a.m. (addition of links to prior blog entries on alcohol, the Daily Iowan's three-part series, and the Press-Citizen's editorial)

We're Going to Fight, Fight, Fight at Iowa!
(brought to you by*)

Yes, it's sad, but we have given the "Iowa Fight Song" a whole new meaning.

Since this blog began, nearly three years ago, there have been a number of blog entries dealing with the alcohol-related problems confronting Iowa City and its University (including its football program) -- and the seeming reluctance of University and City officials to do anything meaningful (especially if it would adversely impact bar owners' profits). [Some of those earlier blog entries are listed and linked from the bottom of this one.]

Many of those problems are "out of sight, out of mind" -- and out of the media: the unreported rapes and unwanted pregnancies; the off-bar-premises fights, violence, drunk driving and other accidents; the student dropout rates, absences, and poor performance; increased (sometimes becoming lifetime) habits of alcohol abuse and alcoholism; economic loss from workplace absenteeism, property damage and additional policing costs; the ingrained disrespect for law from the widespread wink-wink-nudge-nudge adult response to kids' underage drinking and the very profitable fake ID industry that sustains students' and bar owners' illegal behavior; the permanent personal damage and health impairment of binge drinkers. The list goes on.

Last Friday's (April 10) blog entry touched on the needed change in public perception regarding these problems brought about by the recent seeming increase in serious injury from after-bar-closing fights, "what has developed as the the seemingly compulsory college students 2:00 a.m. fist fights outside of Iowa City's bars, with the unsightly bloodied bodies left on the sidewalks." Nicholas Johnson, "Onion's Binge Drinking Proposal; Creative Approaches to Alcohol Abuse," April 10, 2009. (Three days earlier there was an entry about the additional stories of football players' involvement with alcohol and its subsequent violence. Nicholas Johnson, "How About Those Hawks -- Again," April 7, 2009.)

Two days after Friday's entry the story was the top, page-one headline in the Press-Citizen's Sunday edition. Lee Hermiston, "Disturbing Downtown Trend; Recent Assaults Have Officials, Residents Worried," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2009, p. A1.

And see, Editorial, "Time for a Zero Tolerance Policy in the Downtown," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 15, 2009 (although the paper would "like the council to call for a zero tolerance policy for downtown violence and to make sure the police have the resources necessary to enforce such a policy" but it also acknowledges that "the police say they have been using a small army of overtime officers during the weekends . . . but they can't afford to keep doing it" and that "there are no easy answers about how the city should respond to this disturbing trend [given its] tightening budget . . ..").

Now today, April 14, the Daily Iowan is beginning a well-researched and written series on the subject, starting with Regina Zilbermints, "Rash of male attacks raises questions," Daily Iowan, April 14, 2009, p. A1 ("Alcohol-fueled violence is a common occurrence on any college campus. But officials in the two other regent university towns say unprovoked attacks have not been a major issue. . . . Officials agree the bar culture in downtown Iowa City seems to encourage fights."); Regina Zilbermints, "Violence Tests Police; In Response to Recent Violence, Police Are Assigning Four Additional Officers to Patrol Downtown," Daily Iowan, April 15, 2009, p. A1; and Regina Zilbermints, "Officials Wrestle With 'a Big Deal;' The Iowa City City Council Plans to Hold a Work Session to Address the Issue of Male-On-Male Violence," Daily Iowan, April 16, 2009, p. A1 ("UI administrators . . . say the university's primary focus continues to b e violence against women and . . . they have no plans to address male-on-male violence . . .. ").

The difference, as with the ultimate stories about Abu Ghraib
abuse, was the photo on the left that took up nearly a half of the front page above the fold. [Credit: John Richard, Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

(For background and photos on Abu Ghraib see, "Abu Ghraib Torture and Prisoner Abuse," Wikipedia.) You may recall Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld's reponse to the photos from Abu Ghraib in his U.S. Senate testimony: "There are people running around with digital cameras, taking these unbelievable pictures, sending them out . . .." Wolf Blitzer Reports staff, "Rumsfeld testifies before Senate Armed Services Committee," CNN, May 7, 2004.

In other words, the problem was not what was done at Abu Ghraib, the problem was the online distribution of pictures of what was done at Abu Ghraib.

So, hopefully, will it be with John Richard's dramatic photo of a bloodied victim of an after-hours bar fight. As "readerfromcanada" commented on the online version of Hermiston's story, "I'm disturbed over the picture. That should be enough to wake anybody up, and get on more security for that area. 4/12/2009 5:27:09 PM."

Unlike the out-of-sight, out-of-mind -- and out of the media -- consequences of alcohol abuse noted in this blog entry's lead, fights inside, and immediately outside, of bars can be witnessed by police and pedestrians and photographed by anyone with a digital camera. They are, therefore, much harder to ignore.

Here are excerpts from Hermiston's report:
[A]fter midnight, the mood changes downtown. It gets crowded and the people become more unruly. On this Thursday, outside of Third Base, two men allegedly were assaulted. One of them was tackled into a tree, another one had a welt under his eye from being punched.

Minutes later, officers outside of the Sports Column had a man under arrest for assault. Before more officers could arrive, another assault was reported on the pedestrian mall. When officers responded, they found a man sitting on a planter, his face, shirt and pants covered in his own blood after being beaten up inside a bar.

Police said attacks downtown are nothing new. But the severity and unprovoked nature of recent attacks [are] . . . .

Since March 27, the Iowa City Police Department has investigated eight reported serious assaults, including one stabbing, in or around downtown Iowa City. . . .

Leah Cohen, owner of the downtown bar Bo James, said she has noticed an increase in the severe attacks. . . .

"We certainly see them everywhere downtown," Cohen said. "I think what it's attributed to is drinking and probably excessive drinking." [NJ editorial comment: Gee, do you think so?]
Clearly the newspaper stories over the past three decades have done little to motivate city council members or university officials to meaningful action.

So let's see if we can answer the riddle: "How many digital photos does it take to move an official to action?"

Carry your digital cameras; use the zoom feature and keep your distance from the fights. (Hermiston reports bar owners cannot even guarantee the safety of their own employees in the war zone.) I'll post here any photos you send me.

And see related . . .

Nicholas Johnson, "Getting Real About Alcohol," January 18, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Alcohol, Three Items and a Comment," January 22, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Solving Illegal Behavior Problems by Making It Legal," August 20, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Alcohol Update," September 6, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "The Economics of Binge Drinking: A Proposal," September 18, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "How About Them Hawks -- Again," April 7, 2009

Nicholas Johnson, "Onion's Binge Drinking Proposal," April 10, 2009

Nicholas Johnson, "Drunken Fights and Digital Photos," April 13, 2009

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Anonymous said...

Didn't students vote against the 21 proposition so that the city could keep violence and drinking downtown?

Guess that's what they got, but maybe I won't be taking my family to dinner when it turns to evening.

In the fall I had a young man get in my 3 year old's face to try to provoke me. His girlfriend tried to talk him down, and we made it to Capanna for gelato. Across the way two people were yelling at each other over a girl. This was at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday. Things were just getting started I guess. This is a real problem for the city. On the plus side, perhaps the overpriced rents will take a tumble and some non-alcohol businesses will have a chance to be succesful.

Anonymous said...

The drunken brawl that has become downtown (and adjacent blocks) Iowa City is well known.

Binge drinking is a problem. Youth contributes fuel to the fire. Fewer classes for college kids (and less studying) and unemployment (for out of towners) makes it worse. Street drugs contributes a measure of violence.

The local police are of no help. Let me say that again: the local police are of no help.

The local police will either threaten to arrest the kid who was beaten up (for fighting) or take them to the ER to dump the problems on someone else. It is a scandal and a shame and a sham.

We asked local politicians about the problem, which brings up denial or no response or heads fakes.

My oldest son had his ear bit off downtown. The police threatened to arrest him for disturbing the peace.

What a sad sick joke.

BTW, the police know it's going on, their own photographers a long time ago shot video of the drunken pits. Strong male college students refuse to walk home at night because of the awful fighting and dangerous streets.

Shame on Iowa City and shame on the ICPD.