Drunk With Power
By Tommy Purvis
One has to wonder if the simpleminded academics at the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at UC Riverside have ever seen or heard of the 1991 John Singleton film Boyz n the Hood before they embarked on their research on liquor store sales in economically disturbed and crime plagued neighborhoods.
Unsurprisingly, the results published in a pair of articles found in the September issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Review—“Alcohol availability and youth homicide in 91 of the largest U.S. cities, 1984-2006” and “The impact of retail practices on violence: The case of single serve alcohol beverage containers”—found a link between the density of liquor stores and the violent crime rates among teens and young adults ages 13 to 24.
It is the second study, led by the Institute for Public Strategies, that examined crime rates and the cooler space made for hobo wine and adult beverages found in Yo! MTV Raps and sold in San Bernardino liquor stores that has caught traction with policy makers. The researchers used GPS coordinates to plot violent crime and generally found higher rates in communities with liquor stores that use more than 10 percent of cooler space for single-serve containers. A Monday afternoon press conference at City Hall revealed that the police department was quick to stand on the research to start yet another campaign that will ultimately allow peace officers a chance to harass urban youth with loitering violations.
Mayor Pat Morris has decided to use the results to clamp down on liquor stores in a city searching for answers after the latest act of senseless violence that left a 3-year old girl shot dead last week. It appears the live-video feed of a downtown liquor store parking lot to central police command has not been proactive enough to keep the city from leading the state in violent crime categories comparable with inner-city Los Angeles. Morris cited the UCR study during the press conference and urged shop keepers to voluntarily stop selling single-serve portions of alcohol (read: 40s and “tall boys”) to the community.
State law prevents city officials from banning single-serve bottles outright, but it does allow for an ordinance that will push new stores to sell six-packs instead. A liquor store with repeated calls for panhandling, loitering, public drinking and other disturbances could face a court order that will stop them from selling single-serve alcoholic beverages or—in a more severe case—the revocation of the business license.
The Westside Food & Liquor shop on the intersection of Medical Center Drive and West Union Street in the northwest section of the city sells an extensive selection of low-end fortified wine and malt liquor. The corner liquor store has a frosty glass wall of cooler doors that reveals a lineup of MD 20/20, Cisco, Colt 45, Thunderbird, Night Train, and 40-ounce bottles of Colt 45 and Olde English.
Instead of finding drunken gangbangers harassing an outsider an a recent afternoon, I saw freshly dressed school children in line to wait their turn to buy overpriced junk food. Yes, there were specials on booze, but the store was clean. There were no troublemakers or graffiti on any of the nearby walls. It is too bad milk was more expensive than at Trader Joe’s in Rancho Cucamonga where I can buy Two Buck Chuck without the police state intrusion.
“The problems in this neighborhood go much deeper than 40s at the corner liquor store,” says Vernell Luckett, 60, after a recent afternoon purchase of sundries. “The criminal justice system that pushes the youth toward prison instead of education is much more of a scar on this community. This is the closest place that I have to shop.”