The unincorporated village of Whiteclay, Nebraska, is notorious for selling 3.5 million cans of beer a year to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. All that beer available just across the border from a legally dry reservation has fueled public drunkenness and related crime and health problems for decades, but longtime local grocer Lance Moss didn’t decide Whiteclay needed to take some constructive action until his own wife was threatened:
Moss has worked at the store most of his 47 years but something changed when, he says, his wife was accosted.
“The guy was just out in the parking lot trying to get people to give him change,” he said relating the incident. “(My wife) went out and told him to leave and he just went off on her. He followed her into the store. I thought he was going to assault her and I had to get between them.”
Moss took a plea for change to the Sheridan County Commission who forwarded his idea to Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. Ricketts asked Moss to forma local committee of merchants, government leaders, clergy and law enforcement to brainstorm for solutions.
“He asked us just to sit down in an informal way and come up with some suggestions that we might give to the governor for the improvement of conditions in Whiteclay,” said Sheridan County Commissioner James Krotz who serves on the ad hoc committee [Stewart Huntington, “Merchants Want Chaos in Border Town Brought Under Control,” KOTA-TV, 2016.07.20].
Moss wouldn’t need a committee to stop selling beer. His committee’s recommendations do not include getting out of the business of helping Indians get drunk, or apparently even a ban on single-can sales, which has shown some success in reducing alcohol-related trouble in Omaha, Seattle, and elsewhere.
Addiction is a tricky monster: we can say that addicts at least bear some responsibility for the choices that lead them to their addictions, but we can debate the extent to which an addict can simply choose to end the addiction. Those who facilitate and cash in on addiction have no excuse for continuing their behavior: they are making a living by exploiting weak, vulnerable neighbors who need help, not a cheap can of beer.