Some months ago, I posed the following question, partially repeated here:
our family and friends want to celebrate on a hot summer’s eve with the ability to cook outside and lounge around with cool drinks. About 20 of you head to a park but you all reject the areas with picnic tables and the like. Instead, you park in an area a bit distant from the river – because there is a ditch in the way built by the city (interestingly, only earlier that day) exactly to prevent vehicles from going to the riverbank. You then all lug your stuff to the riverbank through some foliage.
There, parents allow their children to play in the river in the visibly-moving current, despite the fact that not only can none of the children swim, but also none of the adults can. Unlike city parks with pools, there are no lifeguards, although a few other individuals are nearby. These non-swimmers bring a total of one life preserver, not worn by anybody but tossed out on the bank. And thus tragedy occurs when six youths drown.
Which brings up the question whether, in this instance, Shreveport bears any liability for the unfortunate event? It did occur offshore city property, within city boundaries, in an area not totally barricaded to prevent people from access.
I guess among the very last acts of the 2006-10 Shreveport City Council, we got at least a partial answer: yes, because according to every member of that Council, there’s some kind of need to build a memorial with taxpayer dollars to those who perished.
Publicly, legal action has not occurred, nor been suggested against the city. And with five of the council members moving on and the other two term-limited so they face reduced constituent pressures, there might not appear to be a downside to this feel-good act. Except, and to continue from that post:
But really to answer that question, another question about whether common sense applies anymore must be addressed. Not only was the area difficult to reach, the city demonstrated there was hazard ahead by building the ditch. If something is relatively safe, it ought not to be difficult to access. And there’s little the city can do to tell people that if they can’t swim they shouldn’t be near enough any water to fall into it, no matter how shallow it might appear. Nor should it have to provide safety personnel on duty at every potentially hazardous spot that determined members of the public, despite the difficulty of getting to these places, might reach. To barricade the area would deny those who can swim, at their own risk, fishermen, etc. the use of this public property.
At best, Shreveport should put up some signs at various intervals in Hamel Park along the Red River stating there are no lifeguards present and that people swim at their own risk. But you just can’t legislate common sense, and to hold the state responsible for that aspects of our lives is the ultimate invitation for the institution of a nanny state that would strip us all of our autonomy as human beings. With freedom to act as we choose, we, not the state nor anything else, bear responsibility for our actions.
Since then, the city has increased its warnings. It added some signs, although none directly in the area where the accident occurred as it argues these would not serve as effective deterrents. It even received a stopover from Swimming USA and one of its recent Olympic gold medalists Cullen Jones to increase awareness about water safety and encourage learning how to swim. However, there’s no good reason to spend additional public money on memorializing the unfortunate event.
For when get right down to it, as bad as that tragedy was, because it was preventable through actions of those involved, the memorial becomes spending public dollars as tribute to negligence. It’s one thing to use public monies to remember soldiers who gave their lives for this country, or traffic accident victims who died through no fault of their own. But to pursue the same in this kind of instance subverts the lesson that we must encourage taking responsibility for our actions. Government should not appear to commemorate an abdication of common sense, no matter how heart-wrenching the circumstances and how much salve this action might provide for those affected by the horror of it.
Because that’s not what the object of any permanent remembrance of this should be. Let the city invite a private memorial without spending any of its resources and any such marking clearly show it is not of the city. Let the city mandate that any such memorial explain the circumstances with the prose indicating that the only good that can come from this is greater awareness of water safety measures that should be taken by individuals. Otherwise, any other kind of memorial would rob positive meaning from the deaths, wasting an opportunity to make the community better and resources regardless of whether they come from taxpayers.