Wednesday, May 18, 2005

John Wiley Price, Civil Disobedience, Liquor Ads and Stores in the 'Hood

Several years ago Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price mounted a virtual one-man campaign in his South Dallas district against liquor billboards that pushed alcohol in the neighborhoods he represented.

I recall that the white folks in my north Dallas County, suburban church didn't get his point, nor did they appreciate his actions, even though few, if any, of them drank themselves.

Mr. Price "assaulted" the billboards with whitewash. That's right. He literally painted over the ads in protest.

Now, you must understand. Mr. Price is not anti-first amendment. He believes in our free market capitalism. He is not against advertisers, as far as I can ascertain.

His problem was proportion, density and placement.

He correctly noted that a disproportionate number of the liquor ads were placed in his part of the community. What would never have been allowed in such density in North Dallas seemed to be running unchecked among the people who elected him. Having exhausted all other channels of honest, reasonable dialogue, he took matters into his own hands. As I recall, he suffered the legal consequences gladly.

While you may not agree with his tactics (I actually saw him as a brave and savvy leader at the time), you must admire what he understood.

A recent study of 82 neighborhoods in four northern/central California cities revealed that the most economically deprived communities contained more places that sold alcohol than the least deprived, even though the more affluent areas housed more heavy drinkers (Marilyn Winkleby, Stanford Prevention Research Center).

This disproportionate clustering of such negative forces affects quality of life and health outcomes. The practice is also patently racist.

Mr. Price was right.

My white, tee-totaling friends who wrote him off as some sort of a lunatic just didn't get it.

Weak, unorganized communities routinely fall prey to mounting negative influences and powers that destine them to remain weak, ill and unhealthy.

Somehow communities need to come together across all the lines that divide us to insure that such marketing pathology is ended for the good of us all.


Jeremy Gregg said...

Recently, a group of young Latinos in Albuquerque, New Mexico rose up against Labatt USA national billboard ad campaign for Tecate beer, whose ads featured a bottle of beer and the words "Finally, a cold Latina." Thanks to the efforts of these teens at Robert F. Kennedy Charter School, Labatt USA removed of all the billboards in the city . . . and eventually across the country, once the story was picked up nationally.

This is an excellent example of the impact that community leaders can have on this situation.

Some additional reading for this interested on the negative impacts of this type of advertising in low-income Hispanic communities:,1854,571090,00.html

Here are some quotes:

"A recent report by The National Academies, Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, points out that Latino girls are initiating alcohol use at a younger age than any other group in the country."

"Other research has shown that America's Latino communities have five times as many alcohol advertisements as predominantly white communities. And when alcohol advertisements depict Latinas as sexual objects, there are additional consequences. One study shows that a concentration of such ads leads to increased violence against Latinas between the ages of 15 to 18."

Kendall said...

What Jeremy points out in Albuquerque and Larry reminds us about inner-city Dallas remind me of something we at Central Dallas Ministries have been trying to do our entire 17 years: value community. Seeing poor black neighborhoods and Latino or neighborhoods as communities deserving the same respect as a Highland Park or a Plano. Respecting and valuing community means everything from taking care of the trash and run-down buildings in an area to noticing its negative billboards. Or poor schools, potholes, etc etc.

jch said...

Larry, this comment is unrelated to the post but I'm curious about two things. First, does the Central Dallas Church seek gender justice as much as it does economic justice and class justice? Second, I would love to hear you comment on the ethics of spending/investing our money. Maybe you've already adressed these issues and I've missed them.

Larry James said...

Joe, thanks for the post and questions. Yes, the Central Dallas Church addresses gender justice and that in a very practical manner. It just is not an issue for women to be fully involved in every aspect of the church's life including leadership (Executive Committee), service and in the public events/meetings of the church women do everything that men do--speak/preach, pray, lead in communion, etc. It has never been an "issue" with the church. It just happens.

As to investing and spending money, give me a bit more to work on here. Stock market? Materialism?

jch said...

I'm glad gender is not an issue at Central Dallas Church. I was totally unaware of that.

As for my question about money: I'm concerned that when I buy discount clothing at Old Navy and the like that I'm contributing to a system that devalues the workers on the lowest levels. Or when I shop at Target I'm complicit in saying that their workers shouldn't earn a living wage, etc. It seems to me that if I want to shop ethically I better be willing to pay the money to do so. (A t-shirt at the ethically responsible American Apparel costs $18.) So I'm not talking so much about materialism as I am about the buying of our every day needs. Does this make sense?

Tim said...

I just have trouble condoning anything Mr. Price does. I will admit that his civil disobedience has been on the wane lately. But I shall never forget when he was invited to my workplace (a middle school) to make a speech during Black History month. He did not stand for the national anthem.


Richard Hill said...

I'm afraid that if 100 white dallas males were polled regarding their opinion of Mr. Price the vast majority would fall in line to condemn this man. Now if these same men took some time and sat down with Mr. Price or better yet his constituency I believe the stereotypes that the white community has fostered within them would be questioned. Perhaps they would see that the noble people that dwell to the south seek the same things that their brothers and sisters enjoy to the north. Security. Good schools. Paved roads. Etc. Christians are not called to toe any party's line. We are called to bear witness to Christ. Indeed, What Would Jesus Do for our family in South Dallas? We need to figure it out and do it. Or what seems to be the case of Central Dallas Ministries, continue to do it.

Tabascocat said...

Ironic that he didn't blackwash the signs ... he "whitewashed" them. Way to go John.

This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'

Censorship and crucifixion by white-washed sepultures indicates a distinct possibility that one is becoming more in tune with "The Way."

As in "Way to go John !!!"

Good Show