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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Florida State Fair’s Student Day has to go


Published:

First things first.

“Student Day” at the Florida State Fair — or Pamplona with punks instead of bulls on the first Friday — has to go. The wonder is that a fun, family-friendly, county-culture celebration has allowed itself — even for a few hours — to be annually associated with chaos and thuggery.

It’s Florida State unfair to everyone else involved — from concessionaires to vendors to the thousands of law-abiding, ticket-buying visitors. It also includes the woman in a wheelchair who had her purse stolen the other day by a rampaging, unsupervised minor.

This should be a no-brainer for the Florida State Fair Authority and the Hillsborough County schools to work out. Ironically, it’s bordered on the brainless that it’s gone on this long. Even MaryEllen Elia and April Griffin ought to be able to agree on this one.

To recap: On Feb. 7, Hillsborough County deputies were overwhelmed by aptly-labeled “wilding” teens. Officially, 99 marauders were ejected and 12 were arrested. Unofficially, countless others couldn’t be corralled by woefully outnumbered security. Last year there were 56 ejections. The year before 48. In 2011 it was 93. There’s been, shall we say, a pattern.

The number of ejectibles, of course, is much higher. But you can’t turn “family-friendly” fairgrounds into a GOP-convention lockdown. You also can’t seriously deplete security elsewhere by bringing in ever more deputies from the street.

The reality is this: Security has known the annual “stampede” was inevitable. And “stampede” is a euphemism for assaulting and stealing. It just annually hopes it’s more or less manageable. That’s beyond disconcerting: Hoping for the best is not a plan. This year it was closer to hopeless. It wasn’t even close to manageable. In fact, the sheriff’s office is still asking the public to come forward with information and/or videos of all the crimes otherwise unaddressed.

Moreover, one of the ejectees, a 14-year-old, was later killed crossing Interstate 4 that night. Deputies couldn’t monitor him and others because they were answering urgent calls for backup inside. Absent an event that annually courts anarchy, the teenager would still be alive.

There should be no first Friday all-call next year for this chaotic, societal disgrace. Provisions can always be made to accommodate and reward students who showcase livestock instead of thug-pack personas.

That means no more free student admission on the first Friday of the fair. And no more (State Fair) free time for Western Hillsborough County schools — nor its counterpart, an Eastern Hillsborough County schools’ holiday for next month’s Strawberry Festival.

And, candidly, does anyone truly believe students — coming off of winter break, semester break and MLK day within the last month — need time off for a fair or festival freebie? Anyone think this might be symptomatic of, say, flawed accountability? Hillsborough County schools should not be enablers. That’s the role of unconscionably clueless parents.

And there’s also this: The annual “wilding” rampage, according to the sheriff’s office, is comprised predominantly of black youths. As a result, the authorities have targeted community partners, including the NAACP, to warn against riotous behavior and its possible consequences.

Interestingly enough, Carolyn Collins, president of the Hillsborough County NAACP, told The Tampa Tribune that she wasn’t familiar with “wilding” but would reach out to the sheriff’s office to cooperate.

Perhaps her role could be to help get the word out that there will be no more “Student Day” first Fridays at the fair — and why that is.

Bravo on tobacco, CVS

“Tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is delivered,” explained CVS CEO Larry Merlo after his company recently announced that it would soon stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. Bravo, Larry.

Not to be skeptical, but it’s amazing how long CVS has been selling cigarettes given how long that incongruous reality has been self-evident. But somebody had to go first. I’d call it enlightened self-interest for now.

In the short term, CVS, a Fortune 500 business, will lose about .015 percent of total sales, but get credit — from President Barack Obama to the health care industry — for doing the right thing. That has a bottom line, too. And the onus will be on the competition to look like something other than blatant hypocrites. So, yes, bravo, Larry.

But the big retail impact will be when gas stations get religion.

The other big impact? When those warning labels on cigarette packs cut to the chase and make the case to vulnerably young smokers, sometimes called “invincibles” in the health-care insurance debate.

Last month in my one-man, day-after-Gasparilla clean-up around my neighborhood, I picked up a half-full pack of Camel cigarettes. I hadn’t held a pack of cigarettes, seriously, since high school (King Sano, for the record), and I scrutinized it like some anthropological artifact. Then I read the surgeon general’s warning: “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.”

Whoa. That should be one hell of a deterrent. Personally, I wouldn’t touch another Snickers if an admonition said anything remotely like that.

But you know even bluntly ominous caveats don’t necessary register to those who still harbor a shot at immortality. There are still too many young, but impressionable smokers.

So, why not double down on the print-ad, peer pressure and vanity approach in the mandated, cig-pack messaging? Why not say: “Think you look cool? Actually, you look stupid for buying this insultingly overpriced product, one that flat out harms your quality of life and can kill even, yes, you. You’re smarter than this, aren’t you?”

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