Tuscaloosa’s downtown has a long way to go before it becomes a “Bourbon Street North.” But the Tuscaloosa City Council recently approved a new weekend entertainment district in downtown Tuscaloosa. The “Downtown T-Town Fall Entertainment District”, as reported in The Tuscaloosa News “allows participating alcohol retailers located within — or immediately adjacent to — the boundary to serve to-go alcoholic beverages in a designated cup.”
By Thursday afternoons on “gameday” weekends, the restaurants and bars in downtown Tuscaloosa are full of patrons. Many of them are students who are too young to legally be served alcohol. University of Alabama students are in fact walking in the downtown area after dark on just about every day of the week. There are no movie theaters or open retail stores at night in Tuscaloosa’s downtown. Restaurants and bars that serve alcohol are the destinations for most students.
To accommodate patrons of the downtown area who need a ride home small carts that patrol the downtown have proliferated. There are also shuttle buses. There is even a downtown Police Precinct that is essentially dedicated to students, with a holding cell for inebriated offenders.
Megan Rondini, the University student who committed suicide over what she believed to be a sexual assault that was covered up, had intended to walk back to her residence after midnight. It would have been a thirty minute walk on dimly lit streets from the Innisfree Irish Pub where she had been a customer. She was offered a ride home that changed her life.
According to a Facebook post by Donald V Watkins: Bobby Moore, an investigator for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, has asked to interview witnesses in the Megan Rondini case. Megan is the young University of Alabama honors student who was drugged and raped during the early morning hours of July 2, 2015, by Terry Jackson ‘Sweet T’ Bunn, Jr. Sweet T has denied raping Megan. Two of the individuals contacted by Moore are friends of Megan who were with her at Innisfree Irish Pub on the night of July 1, 2015.
Donald V Watkins is a lawyer, whose daughter is a University of Alabama student, who has through his Facebook posts championed a justice for Megan movement. He has called for an investigation into the circumstances of Megan Rondini’s death.
He attributed the interest of the Attorney General’s office in the Rondini case to a Alabama Voices column
in the Montgomery Advertiser
. The article “The scars left by date rape drugs” was written by Alice Martin, former U.S. attorney for Northern Alabama and former chief deputy attorney general for Alabama.
Watkins posted: Bobby Moore’s requests for witness interviews came on Friday, September 8, 2017 — exactly one day after Ms. Alice Martin, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama (2001-2009) and former chief deputy attorney general for Alabama (2015-2017) published an article titled, “Alabama Voices: The scars left by date rape drugs” in the Montgomery Advertiser. The article describes Ms. Martin’s own scary experience with “date rape” drugs.
In her article, Ms. Martin, who is a highly accomplished career prosecutor, acknowledges that Megan’s case was “mishandled”. This candid admission by a respected federal and state prosecutor was a huge step toward achieving justice for Megan Rondini.
Alice Martin in her article “The scars left by date rape drugs” wrote: My prayer is that fun times do not turn into horrible nightmares. I have seen that pain. I have offered a comforting shoulder to girls like Megan Rondini, whom I wish I had met before she took her own life when her rape trauma turned too excruciating to bear. When I worked at Vanderbilt University Hospital’s psychiatric unit as a Registered Nurse before going to law school, I cared for patients on suicide watch. Megan’s case was mishandled and those accountable must bear that scar.
Talk to your daughters. I know personally it can happen to anyone. Date rape drugs are especially cunning as they render the victim unable to fight back and unable to describe what happened to them. My husband found me wondering incoherently in a parking lot, unable to even recognize my mate of 25 years. Imagine trying to identify a random attacker. With date rape drugs becoming more common, I would like to work for reforms that change the way these cases are handled when the victim is drugged to the point of incapacitation for the purpose of sexual assault.
If anything comes out of the investigation by Bobby Moore that improves the health and safety for students in Tuscaloosa, it is truly unfortunate that it took the death of a student to motivate it. Even if “date rape drugs” are not seen as a major problem, the inability or reluctance of the City of Tuscaloosa to enforce its own codes
on the access of minors to bars will remain a hindrance to its providing a safe community for University students.
As the Alcohol MD website
reports: Underage college drinkers are more likely than their of-age counterparts to suffer consequences ranging from unplanned sex, getting hurt or injured, requiring medial treatment for an alcohol overdose, and doing something they would later regret. (Wechsler et al. 2000) These problems often have impacts not just on the drinkers, but on fellow students and area residents as well.
Even the University of Alabama
acknowledges the problems associated with under-aged drinking: According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism college students face dire consequences due to high alcohol consumption. These estimates include:1,825 traditional aged college students (between the ages of 18 and 24) die each year due to alcohol-related injuries; 696,000 are assaulted by a peer who has been drinking; 97,000 students are victims of an alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape; 400,000 students had unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students report to being too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex, and more than 150,000 develop an alcohol-related health problem. (2009).
Will parents want their children to attend the University of Alabama if they hear that there is a date rape drug and alcohol abuse problem in Tuscaloosa? That is a question that both the City of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama should be concerned about.