Our Children Are Being Harmed - Should We Stand Idly by?

In a fascinating undercover law enforcement action, investigators from the New York State Liquor Authority visited almost 1000 NYC stores in 2014 to test whether they would sell to underage buyers.

Shockingly, not 10%, not a quarter, not half, but almost 60% of NYC stores sold to underage buyers.

Take a minute to understand what that means - if you are under 21 and want to buy alcohol illegally, you have 60% success rate. 6 out of 10 New York establishments had no problem illegally selling a dangerous and addictive substance to children.

Children and alcohol: This shocking statistic is more evidence of a public health breakdown coupled with moral failure in New York City.

If you think that alcohol consumption among children is a harmless rite of passage, here are a few facts to sober you up:

  • Alcohol consumption is the leading underlying cause of death and disability for Americans aged 15-49 - according to the Global Burden of Disease project.
  • Each year, alcohol-related injuries (homicide, suicide and unintentional injury) cause 5,000 deaths among people under age 21 in the United States.
  • In 2011, there were nearly 7,000 alcohol-related emergency epartment visits among New Yorkers under age 21

It gets worse. Not only are we standing by while our youth are injured and killed, we are tacitly allowing and encouraging alcohol consumption by youth on what might be the nation's school transportation system: the MTA.

The MTA recently voted to ban political advertisements. Yet ads that expose and target children for alcohol consumption remain? What message are we sending to our youth, to ourselves?

What does it mean when we say that children should not be able to drink, but we sell alcohol to them? What does it mean when one of the nation's largest school transportation systems, the MTA, parades seductive images of alcohol to hundreds of thousands of children each day?

As a rabbi, what it means to me is that we are violating the Bible's commandment: Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor - Leviticus 19:15

Our nation and many of our religious traditions are built around the idea of free will. We do not live in a society that limits our choice. But Judaism teaches that freedom does not absolve us of our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.

It is time for rethinking and revamping our alcohol policies in New York City. Too much blood has been spilt, too many hospital visits, too many fights, too many tears because of child access to alcohol. Let's start the healing by banning alcohol advertisments on the MTA, the largest public school transit system in America. Let's start by ensuring that stores are not violating NY law by selling alcohol to minors. We can do that by demanding that our elected officials get serious about funding efforts to enforce underage drinking laws, whether by fully funding the SLA (which has only 6 enforcement agents for all of NYC, Westchester, and Long Island) or by having the NYPD pick up the slack. Let's start by taking responsibility for New York's most precious asset: our children, our future.