Family and friends of Eric Benson, the University of Maine at Farmington student who was senselessly killed last weekend in Monument Square, must be torturing themselves, wondering “what if.”

What if Benson hadn’t gone out that night? What if he made his way to his car a few minutes earlier and had not run into William Googins, the 20-year-old Gray man who had allegedly been drinking in an Old Port bar despite being underage?

But those things happened, and now instead of Benson’s family and friends getting ready to celebrate his college graduation next December, they are mourning his death, his life needlessly cut short.

The rest of us should be asking ourselves a few “what ifs” as well. What if everything unfolded as it did, but Benson hadn’t hit his head on a hard surface? What if instead of dying, he had just suffered a minor injury?

Would it have been front-page news? Or would we have just written it off as another fight? Would we have listened to the voices of people calling for tighter controls on drinking and fighting in and around the city’s bars?

The answer is probably not.

Police Chief James Craig may have called a news conference to support better communication between police and bar managers, but it would not likely have drawn the same level of attention that Thursday’s event did. And that’s too bad.

Closing-time violence in and around the Old Port is an old story, and one that many residents of Greater Portland think doesn’t affect them. If a few people wake up with bruises as well as a hangover, what’s the big deal?

But Benson’s death shows what’s at stake.

Craig is trying to make sure that everyone involved does what they can to help police do their jobs.

That means bartenders who don’t serve minors or over-serve anyone, and bouncers who don’t let already-drunk patrons through the doors and take steps to let the police know about them. It also means that the City Council takes a firm stand on liquor license applications and renewals, and letting businesses that don’t follow the rules know that they have a lot to lose.

And the rest of us should stop thinking that a few punches after closing time is just a problem for the people in the Old Port. Then maybe another family could be spared what Eric Benson’s family is now going through.


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