Monday, October 13, 2008

Bootlegging as a rural phenomenon

I've often associated bootlegging with rural places, primarily because I grew up in a dry county where the bootlegging phenomenon and the bootleggers' identities were well known. As I've suggested in an earlier post, I still find it interesting that the county sheriff periodically busts a bootlegger or two, usually in close temporal proximity to local elections, while ignoring them most of the time. Bootlegging surely is not limited to rural areas, but the fact that rural counties are more likely to be dry than urban ones no doubt has something to do with the phenomenon's occurrence there. And, it is rural communities' own decision -- typically at the county level -- to be dry. In the South, these decisions seem largely driven by religious reasons, but that is not necessarily the case elsewhere.

Dan Barry's story about bootlegging in his "This Land" series in the New York Times today suggests that local awareness of the ravages associated with alcohol use have led many rural Alaska communities to restrict the sale of alcohol.

The story's dateline is Bethel, Alaska, a place that's been noted in this blog before, most recently in Barry's story last week. The headline is "Bootleggers Playing Hide-and-Seek on the Tundra," and in it Barry details the thinking behind the prohibition or tight restriction on alcohol in many rural Alaska communities. In short, they view it as an "accelerant" of crime and social problems. He writes:
And with illicit alcohol come bootleggers who lack any roguish Prohibition-era charm; just one case of their whiskey can upend a small native village.

An outsider might scan an Alaska State Troopers annual report, come across that photograph of Coors Light cases stacked beside bottles of R&R whiskey, and see ingredients for a holiday party. But many people here see it the way others would a few kilos of cocaine, piled in a pyramid for the camera — as seized contraband.

Read the rest here.

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