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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Odens Shooting Shows Social Costs of Alcohol

When I first heard about the shooting of Bradley Odens up in Brookings, I thought, "Well, that's what you get for breaking into houses." Brookings County States Attorney Clyde Calhoon appears to agree, as he has declined to press charges for what he has deemed a justified killing.

As I read a little more about Odens, I'm inclined to see this incident less in terms of manly justice and more in terms of just plain sadness. Odens wasn't a thug; he was drunk. He was a typical college kid. He sang in the SDSU Concert Choir. He wanted to combine music somehow with his electronic engineering major. He looked like Abraham Lincoln, his friends say, and on a choir trip to D.C., he bought a top hat on a whim and did impromptu impersonations of the 16th President.

And he's dead now, because he went drinking, drank so much that he couldn't recognize his own house.

Grim irony: at a benefit scheduled for today to help the Odens family cover funeral costs, well-wishers can pay $10 for unlimited drinks from the beer kegs. We celebrate a life by saying, "Drink all you want!" which is exactly why we lost that life.

I can't help thinking that if Odens had just been on a bender with pot and come stumbling up to the wrong front step, he'd still be alive. The armed and trembling owner would have said, "This isn't your house!" and an herbal stoner would have said, "Whoa, dude, you're right. Thanks," and wandered hazily off to his own place.

We ban pot, but we build industry and tax revenue on alcohol, which gets South Dakotans killed, beaten, pregnant, and otherwise messed up on an all-too-regular basis. (Nationwide, alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes.)

I have little tolerance for pot or beer. I'd just as soon ban both as legalize both. But what we really need to address is a culture that glorifies alcohol and mindlessness. Why do we as a society transmit the message to our youth that the proper and manly way to enjoy yourself socially is to surrender your reason and will to mind-altering substances? Is it really that hard to enjoy reality the way it is?

Had I been the trembling homeowner on the other side of the door, had I said, "Stop or I'll shoot!" and the tall stranger outside chosen to keep coming, my lack of faith in my judo as well as the keen awareness of the other people behind me in the house likely would have led me to pull the trigger, too. But I'm glad I don't have to live with the fact that I did... or that I did because of nothing more than the mindless consumption of alcohol.


  1. This is sad all around. One young man dead and another who has to live with the fact that he killed someone. I agree it was justified; if your life is threatened, you do what you have to protect yourself.

    And a fundraiser which advocates the very thing that got this student killed?!

  2. You're right about our society glorifying the results of alcohol. Ask any group of young people what they talk about before the weekend or on Monday morning, and usually it involves getting drunk and whatever goes with it. Do we drink to become a more likable version of ourselves, to forget our regular lives or to become someone else? Finding other avenues for communication, socializing and fun are difficult because there's no money in it for anyone. Changing society is a challenge.

  3. Good post. Could not have said it any better.

  4. You know, something like this happened to me a couple years ago. In bed, drifting off to sleep, and heard someone trying to get in my front door.

    Got up, threw on my bathrobe, and took my dog out the back door, walked around, and found one drunk young woman collapsed on my front step and a drunk young man standing there trying like the devil to get my door open.

    The woman insisted that this was her friend's house and they were going to crash here. I held my dog and explained that it was my house, not her friend's. She insisted again--rather angrily, and I offered to call the police to help resolve the issue. At that point they left--stumbling off down the street.

    Now I know this drunk guy in Brookings was doing some damage to the house--these people might've done damage to mine had I not gone outside to stop them and threaten to call the police.

    I don't see how I would've been justified in shooting them, but maybe I would've--at least in terms of the law. I still don't think I would've pulled the trigger--but it's easy to say you wouldn't when you don't actually have a gun in your hand.

    I don't necessarily blame the guy for shooting, but in my mind, it shows more fear than reason.

  5. If this sort of thing happened to me, I wouldn't shoot the guy, because I don't own a gun. I've never owned one. Having no interest in hunting, I doubt I'll ever own any type of gun.

    That said, I do believe in the individual's right to bear arms. I simply see no personal need to exercise that right. Maybe if I lived in Nicaragua, I would see things differently ...

  6. Just curious: do the rules of engagement allow police to shoot an unarmed suspect dead in a situation like this?

  7. "Just curious: do the rules of engagement allow police to shoot an unarmed suspect dead in a situation like this?"

    You mean if it were a policeman's home? Yes.

    The victim acted appropriately given the time of night, the violent attempt to gain entry, and what he perceived as a threat to his life.

    It is a lose lose situation and the victim's actions were obviously in accordance with the evidence and laws regarding use of deadly force.


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