What happens when the party ends

Not quite, admittedly. The student lived. But that was strictly a matter of good luck – his and mine. One of these days, if things go on as they have, some student’s luck is sure to run out.

I live downtown in the historical district – not too far from student rentals and in between the Quad and the downtown bars. Having walked our dog late before bed last Monday, I foolishly forgot to lock the door. So, when our dog began barking angrily at 1:30 a.m., my wife and I went downstairs to investigate. There, lying on our living room couch, was an insensibly drunk young man. He had either mistaken our house for his or just couldn’t make the long walk from some bar to his own residence. He was difficult to rouse, but we eventually managed to get him on his feet and out the door.

Admittedly, we should have offered to drive him home; anyone too drunk to reach his own home is just as likely to get hit by a car or walk into a neighbor’s house. We also didn’t call the police or take his ID. While we should have done that, we didn’t know how he would react.

Neither, happily, did we treat him as a dangerous intruder and train a weapon on him. But as we lay in bed, my wife and I both wondered the same thing: When will one of these incidents end with flashing police lights and a dreadful late-night phone call to a shocked and grieving family?

Almost every one of our neighbors has a similar story. A couple of students ended up passed out on a neighbor’s driveway, hidden from view and waiting to be run over by an unaware driver. Others have pounded on the doors of surprised homeowners in the middle of the night, demanding entry.

Living in Tuscaloosa, we older residents know and (usually) like students. But we like safety, too – both ours and the students’. We know several of our neighbors are armed for their own protection. It isn’t hard to predict that one day this mixture of drunk students and nervous homeowners with guns is going to turn fatal. The only surprising thing is that it hasn’t already happened.

So, I have some urgent advice 
for students.

The most important is about drinking itself. If you’re so drunk you can’t recognize you have entered the wrong house, you haven’t just had a bad night: you have a drinking problem. You risk bodily harm just from the amount of alcohol you have ingested, not to mention the possible consequences of 
your actions.

Additionally, at least one person in your group should be capable of making rational decisions and looking after friends. Encouraging friends to moderate their drinking wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

As for the many individuals and groups at all levels of power who try to look after our students, all of us know this city’s economic well-being has a lot to do with it being a college town. We want students to have a good and safe time here. We know that everyone, especially young people, make mistakes. No doubt some, eager for students’ business or wary of angry phone calls from parents whose kids have been arrested, are inclined to indulge these mistakes.

But they should worry that this kind of behavior – a student too drunk to know where he or she is, wandering onto or even into a stranger’s property, vulnerable to committing or being a victim of sexual assault or violence, will one day end in exactly the way we all fear. Some poor kid will die or be the victim or perpetrator of a crime. Some local official will have to explain to bereaved parents that their child is dead because of conduct of which everyone has long been aware. And some homeowner will have to face himself or herself after having taken a life, even if in self-defense. Then the party will be over for good.

Paul Horwitz is a professor at The University of Alabama Law School.

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