2006-12-01 / Editorial/Opinion

Opinions Enforcing The Law Selectively In 'Dangerous' Situations

When David Reilly was arrested and given a summons for drinking an alcoholic beverage on the beach on July 4, 2003, he immediately thought two things: that the police were wrong for moving in and arresting people who were drinking beer at what he termed a fundraiser for the families of those who died at the World Trade Center two year before and that the police, led by Captain Charles Talamo, had badly overreacted to the situation. Then, a few days later, he read an article in a daily paper detailing the fact that friends of Mayor Michael Bloomberg had gathered in Prospect Park in Brooklyn for an evening of wine and music. That incensed him. Why was it all right to drink wine at a concert in a park in Brooklyn, but not all right to drink beer on the beach, a city park, in Rockaway? Reilly brought suit in federal court against Talamo, the two officers who arrested him, the mayor, the Parks Commissioner and the City of New York in general for false arrest and selective prosecution. He quickly gave up on the false arrest suit because it was clear that he and 10 others who had coolers full of beer were guilty of the city law. Last week, a federal court judge threw out his charge of selective enforcement saying that all of the others on the beach that day were issued summonses for drinking as well. The argument that people drinking wine at Prospect Park was equal to people drinking beer on Rockaway's beach and that the people in Rockaway were the victims of selective prosecution went south as well. The judge ruled that the police had latitude in making arrests and issuing summonses in "dangerous situations." The judge wrote, "...a reasonable person could regard the circumstance of the plaintiff to be different enough from the concert goers to justify the differential treatment. As a matter of common sense, ready access to the ocean makes the beach a far different and riskier environment for the consumption of alcohol than a park." That ruling gives the police lots of leeway in enforcing the laws, and we are not sure that should be the way it works. Hey, you're driving drunk, but the road is empty and so it's not really dangerous except to yourself, so we won't arrest you this time, but that guy over there is driving drunk on a crowded road and therefore is dangerous and deserves to be arrested. Who draws the line, and where should it be drawn? We really don't want some rookie cop making those decisions. If a law is flawed and it must be selectively enforced, then don't make the law in the first place. Prospect Park has had more deaths than Rockaway Beach in the last year of so. It is a very dangerous place, especially at night and particularly if a person is impaired by drink. Remember too, that those friends of the mayor who drink in "safe" venues such as Prospect Park and Central Park must still navigate city streets to get home. The law should be the law, and let's enforce it across the board. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, after all.

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