There is no way to dodge a most real, and troubling part of a story that unfolded in the Madison neighborhood where I live.
In November a Madison police officer shot Paul Heenan three times, killing the young man. The officer, Stephen Heimsness, arrived on the scene for what was first thought to be a burglary. When the full story was told Heenan mistakenly entered a wrong home, struggled with a homeowner, and then was shot on the front lawn by the police.
I can in no way justify the three shots which were fired, or the lack of finding some other avenue by Heimsness to calm the situation. This is a tragedy of major proportions, and all the more harsh given where it occurred.
This morning the newspaper reported that Heenan had a blood-alcohol level of 0.208 perecnt, which is more than twice the state’s legal limit for drivers. Even though Heenan was walking and not driving, it still makes for a very intoxicated situation, one that severely impaired his judgement.
Cleary that was the case when Heenan, who was new to the neighborhood, mistakenly entered someone elses home. He found his life coming to an end on November 9th at 2:50 A.M. when he was shot multiple times in the upper torso by a policeman.
While the Dane County District Attorney said no charges will be filed against the officer I suggest we all might want to ponder a charge against society that creates, nurtures, and condones a drinking culture that produces a great deal of sadness.
Shortly after the shooting a group from this neighborhood gathered for reflection concerning the event. I was not there, so can not comment on the topics discussed but I would bet there was not a lot of dialogue about one of the reasons that this whole sad story started.
There are at least two dozen drinking establishments with an alcohol license in this neighborhood. Too often drinking is considered a ‘past time’ in the same way that others might go to a movie or take a long walk. Everywhere we turn in our society there are ads for beer or other intoxicants, and there is hardly a gathering where an alcoholic beverage is not offered. It is not uncommon to hear of people saying they have a hangover several times a week.
I have no idea why Heenan was drinking to the point he was twice the legal limit. But the sad fact is alcohol played a major role in his death. By all accounts he was a bright, creative man with a great deal of potential. The night we was killed alcohol severely impaired his judgment.
No one can miss the senseless nature of what led up to the horrible ending. While the police pulled the trigger, someone poured more drinks than Heenan should have consumed.
Make no mistake, he made choices the night he died.
But now I would ask that we make the choice in his memory, and for countless others who get caught up in a story of this type, to ponder the role alcohol plays in our lives and our society.
I in no way am advocating for prohibition.
I am, however, suggesting we start to have common-sense conversations about the amount of alcohol that is consumed, and the impact it has on our country. I can assure my readers who do not live here that the loss of this young man has jarred the community. But will it jar us to the point where we ask deeper and more meaningful questions? Can the tragedy of Paul Heenan be a vehicle by which we can look at how alcohol too often plays a needlessly harmful role in our society?
The cost of pretending there is no problem seems too high a price to pay.