Spotlight Shines on Whiteclay Disaster - 1/26/17

Sheridan County Commission Fails Residents

A beer truck in front of a liquor store in Whiteclay NEOn January 11, the Sheridan County, NE Board wasted an opportunity to address an unmitigated public health disaster in its back yard. Asked to evaluate the appropriateness of liquor store licenses in Whiteclay, NE—a tiny town of 12 that sells over 3.5 million cans of beer a year, largely to the neighboring, legally dry, Pine Ridge Reservation—the board voted unanimously to recommend reapproval.

Nebraska state government, spearheaded by State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, has been aggressively pushing for open hearings around the Whiteclay liquor licenses. Key to this process was a recent hearing at which the liquor store owners made the case why their licenses should be renewed. Around 60 attendees made cases for and against reapproval, with the Omaha Journal-Herald reporting that the majority of arguments were against.

The Lincoln Journal-Star provided a rundown of the local ills caused by the flow of alcohol into Pine Ridge. These include unsolved murders, widespread fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, the overloading of local behavioral health and medical services, and lasting damage to the family infrastructure. “It’s in every single one of our families,” Pine Ridge advocate and Alcohol Justice ally Olowan Martinez told the Journal-Star. “No matter how educated, no matter how nice our homes and how good we live. We could be some of the haves, of have-nots, and still be affected by it.”

The Pine Ridge reservation abuts Sheridan County and bears much of the burden of Whiteclay-related alcohol harm, but the price tag is high for the county, too. The Associated Press estimated 1/3 of Sheridan County’s $5.2 million budget goes to costs incurred by alcohol use in Whiteclay. With no local police force, the town is also entirely reliant on the Sheriff’s Department, which has five officers to patrol an area the size of Delaware. This, critics say, makes the region un-policeable, further warranting a revocation of liquor licenses.

Proponents of the liquor stores argued that the responsibility for stopping alcohol harm lies with Pine Ridge and the residents who drink. They also maintained that the police presence, though paltry, was normal for a rural area. The Sheridan County Board concurred, and recommended the licenses be renewed.

The decision was slammed by the editorial staff of the Journal-Star, who called it “reprehensible” and asserted that it “ignored indisputable evidence that adequate law enforcement is absent in Whiteclay.”

The case will come before the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission on March 7, 2017. The three commissioners—Robert Batt, Janice Wiebusch, and Bruce Bailey—will make the final determination as to whether to honor the needs of the residents of Pine Ridge and Sheridan County, or to maintain the cycle of intoxication, exploitation, illness, and waste.

TAKE ACTION: stand with the people of Pine Ridge to shut down the Whiteclay liquor stores.