Youth Radio: Liquor Stores and Vandals

Vandals deface two liquor stores in Anyi Howell's neighborhood, and he's upset. The Youth Radio contributor talks about how the community is handling an increased number of liquor stores, and how the local media is reporting the vandalism.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Two liquor stores vandalized. Four Oakland, California men charged with felonies, including hate crimes. Police say that the men were part of a group that went from store to store in late November demanding the owners stop selling alcohol to blacks and smashing bottles and merchandise. In mid-December, Oakland residents held a town meeting and discussed what some see as a dangerously large number of liquor stores in the city's African-American neighborhoods. Youth Radio's Anyi Howell is upset that his community has had to deal with this recent round of vandalism; incidents, Howell says, the local media has misinterpreted.

ANYI HOWELL:

When I was little and my dad drove around with me near our house in West Oakland, he used to point out how many liquor stores and churches were right across the street from each other. Riding with him through a city like Oakland, we could almost make a game of it. But I didn't know if he would find the game funny, so I never brought it up.

I've noticed the same thing in low-income neighborhoods from San Francisco to Washington, DC, and once asked my uncle: `How could there be as many liquor stores as churches?' He replied, `Because they want us to live on our knees.'

I always wondered who `they' are. Is it the imperial business owners who sometimes establish ghetto chains of liquor stores all in one neighborhood? Or is it the zoning department that green-lights the development of these stores?

Oakland has been in the news because several black men demolished a liquor store and allegedly threatened the owner for poisoning the black community. The news spares no opportunity to show this footage, and prosecutors are painting the culprits as terrorists. But I look at the situation through a different lens. Some of these stores add to the community problems, like public drunkenness and domestic violence, with liquor discounts and lax rules that make it easy to get drunk and get alcohol without being ID'd. And if you do get ID'd, fret not. Just walk down the block. Before I turned 21, I could get a 211 tall can of malt liquor for less than a dollar. Or I could pick up a Paul Masson brandy for $4 and a 50-cent soda to mix it with. Now I didn't run out and terrorize the streets of Oakland, although I did act rather foolish. But I do known people who do, and have, run amok, and liquor store specials have been the recipe for that hyperrowdy activity.

These stores' bottom line in the black people's consumption of candy, sodas, single cigars, cigarettes, stale donuts and old fruits. They promote our unhealthy lifestyles with advertisements and deals. In my neighborhood, if I want to go to a grocery store with a real produce department, I probably pass at least five liquor stores on my way. If an area heavily saturated with fast-food restaurants is vulnerable to health problems stemming from obesity, it's no wonder areas with a lot of liquor stores experience higher violent crime rates.

I'm forced to ask why liquor stores, and not Starbucks, are booming in our neighborhoods. People come to these neighborhoods from miles around, certainly not for the lattes. Store owners say they're just serving the demand; that the real poisoners are drug dealers hanging around these stores just as much as the winos. But to me, the notion of discount liquor sounds like drugs at a deal. So maybe the zoning department shouldn't be putting so many of these drug dealers all in one place.

CHIDEYA: That was Anyi Howell of Youth Radio.

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