Getting Carded

In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21 (but you can join the military and kill people a lot earlier than you can drink alcohol).  At alcohol-serving establishments, patrons are supposed to present identifications before being served.  This is something of a joke, since fake IDs are easy to obtain (just ask the Bush twins).

This matter of false positives is not the subject of this post.  Rather, I am intrigued by the observation that it is not always necessary to present identification.  I know that when I walk into the liquor store and buy my wine, the store owner has never ever asked me for identification.  This is because sometimes it should be obvious by visual inspection, and asking the obvious is only going to upset the customer for wasting everybody's time.

Last year, I was on a supermarket line with a purchase of a six-pack of beer and the checkout girl asked for identification.  I could have shown her my driver's license, but I just said, "You're kidding!  You are saying this just to make me feel young, right?"  She laughed and that was that.

So it is that I read this article in the New York Daily News.

(New York Daily News) Call bar tix blitz anti-Latino.  By Robin Haas.  February 15, 2005.

Charging that police are waging an "unlawful ticket blitz" on Latino bars and restaurants in Corona and Jackson Heights, local activists and entrepreneurs plan to demonstrate tonight outside the 115th Precinct stationhouse.

Frustrated bar and restaurant owners contend that in an effort to meet summons-writing quotas, cops from the 115th are illegally ticketing them for "failure to check ID" of customers who are clearly over the legal drinking age.  The proprietors, their supporters and at least one local elected official plan to demonstrate outside the Northern Blvd. stationhouse in Jackson Heights beginning at 7 p.m.

"They go into the establishment with a Gestapo-like mentality, 10 or 15 cops at a time, turn on the lights, shut off the music and start asking everybody for ID," said Charles Castro, an 18-year veteran of the NYPD - including 10 years at the 115th Precinct - who now works for the Latino Action Center. "They empty out the establishment. They're like a Latino bar and restaurant hit squad."

According to Castro, for the past year, cops from the precinct's impact unit have been aggressively ticketing some 30 different bars and restaurants in Corona and Jackson Heights that are owned by Latinos or are frequented by the Hispanic community.  "There's no law that says you need to have an ID in a bar if you're 40 or 50 or 60 years old," he said.

Actually, the law says that the establishment is supposed to see proof of age for all customers.  If an obviously sixty-year-old long-time customer cannot produce an ID during a police patrol, the bar will get ticketed because the said individual had not been checked upon entry.  This is legally correct.  But wait till the policeman or the judge shows up at his favorite bar and then his favorite bartender whom he has known for the last 20 years asks to see his ID first ...

There are other existing laws that were not enforced in New York City, although they could be.  For example, while one does not have to carry an ID on the street, one is required to carry at least 30 dollars.  If a police stops you and you don't have 30 dollars on you, you can be charged with 'vagrancy.'  Now, you imagine a policeman standing on the Central Park reservoir path in summer and asking every jogger dressed in shorts and singlets to show his/her money.  Legally, they can be cited for being vagrants.  But if they should show up in court to contest the charge, the judge is likely to curse out the police officers and tell them to deal with real crime problems instead of wasting everybody's time.  Case dismissed without prejudice.