Friday, March 30, 2007

Not in our neighborhood—role reversal

Almost twenty years ago, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price caused quite a stir when he began a campaign to drive liquor billboard advertisements out of South Dallas. Mr. Price whitewashed a number of billboards himself as a way to call attention to the inordinate number of such signs in his district. He also pointed out the presence of far too many establishments with licenses to sell alcohol in his part of town. As a minister in far North Dallas at the time, I remember cheering him on, to the chagrin of some of my own parishioners.

More recently, protest efforts, community organizing and legal action have combined to focus attention on the area around and between Lincoln High School and Pearl C. Anderson Learning Center. The area immediately around Pearl C. is home to 10 liquor stores.

Not long ago, one of the stores lost its license to sell alcohol. The community celebrated the decision by Dallas County Clerk Cynthia Calhoun to close Buy N Save Discount Beer & Wine. Unfortunately, her decision was overturned last week by a Dallas County judge who cited “procedural errors” in the ruling and sent the case back to the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC). The TABC could decide to renew the store’s license or call for another public hearing on the matter.

Since the mid-1990s, neighbors, school leaders and students have been working to get the stores closed due to their proximity to the schools. In 1995, their efforts paid off as the Dallas City Council passed an ordinance that established a 1,000-foot alcohol free zone around specified schools.

Unfortunately, the existing stores were “grandfathered” and allowed to continue business inside the zone around Pearl C.

All sorts of negative activities have been reported and documented as occurring in and around stores like Buy N Save that do business in the Lincoln/Pearl C. area, including prostitution, selling alcohol to minors and drug trafficking. For years, students walking to and from school have been subjected to all sorts of negative experiences, influences and harassment.

Neighbors and school leaders have been vigilant in their protests and watchfulness, but the stores remain.

I’m reminded of Mr. Price’s earlier actions on behalf of some of the same families, and his entire district.

Why should South Dallas be subjected to such influences? Folks in North Dallas wouldn’t put up with such circumstances even for a moment. What's more, they would be heard. Folks in South Dallas don't seem to get the same sort of hearing, attention or responsiveness from public officials as those who live up North.

If you live in Dallas, write your Council Member, as the Council is considering the creation of more alcohol-free zones around other public schools in the city.

[For more details, see “Move against beer store near school reversed,” by Scott Goldstein, The Dallas Morning News, Thursday, March 22, 2007, page 8B.]


owldog said...

If we do not live in Dallas how do we help get the word to the "right" people? ALL children deserve better then these children are getting while walking to and from school. You are right, "IT WOULD NOT HAPPEN IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD" We need to make sure it does not happen in any neighborhood. I know there would be news coverage of this in the North Dallas, Plano neighborhoods.

Larry James said...

Owldog, thanks for your post and question.

It is clear that anyone can write the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission and express outrage and concern. That couldn't hurt.

bpb said...

I totally understand your situation. This is not nearly as bad as what you have, but just to show you I do realize "money talks." Within the last few years they wanted to put in a rock quarry in a certain part of the county. Now these folks in this part of the county seem to think they're higher on the food chain that everyone else. They conducted an all-out campaign against the quarry, and guess what? NO quarry. So it goes to the opposite side of the county. This part also fought it. Unfortunately this part didn't have the same dollars as the others and they lost. We now have a quarry.

Justin said...

Maybe this is just me thinking in laissez faire ways, but if people in the neighborhood took to picketing, and organized a boycott of the liquor store, it might help them move of their own accord. I understand the desire to keep liquor stores away from schools, but if they are getting grandfathered in, I imagine the store has been there for quite a while, and I also imagine, that whoever owns it isn't much better off than the people who live in the neighborhood. Just a man with a family trying to make ends meet.

The government is not going to force a man from his business because of a new law, and I don't know that I'd like to see it. If the tables were turned, and a developer built a nice new development in an urban area, and then passed laws against a lower middle class persons store (whatever it may be... zoning, I don't know) to get them out of that area, I imagine people would be angry.

There's got to be a way to do this without force. I mean, as christians, how can we support a violence backed institution forcing a person from their livlyhood... regardless of how wrong we think it is. I just can't see Jesus going to the local liquor store with Roman Soldiers forcing them to stop selling wine. He might go in, befriend the guy, and convince him to move his business elsewhere... but I just don't see him using force.

syvess24 said...

I find it interesting that our government would allow certain things to continue in certain areas while ceasing them in other areas. Like you said, this situation would never happen in North Dallas. Since when does our government reserve the right to deem some areas "better" than others? The children of South Dallas are just as deserving of safe school zones as those in North Dallas. I think everyone should write to the commission about this appalling situation. Every child deserves to go to school without feeling threatened or unsafe. They are the future, but what kind of future are we to expect when they are being taught that alcohol, drugs, and prostitution are just a part of life. It should not be our motto to ignore the problems in our society. Our children need to know that such things are not to be tolerated. They need to know where we stand. It is sad that our government thinks we stand for toleration, instead of standing for what is right.

Larry James said...

Justin, thanks for the post.

However, in this case you just don't see what this actually is on the ground.

First of all, almost none of these type stores are owned by locals. Most are owned by "outsiders" who work for people who live in the wealthy parts of Dallas. That is just a fact.

Second, all sorts of unaddressed criminal activity go on in and around these stores, including the sale of single, formaldihyde cigarettes--a new way to get a buzz I'm told! Law enforcement has a hard time catching the people in the act.

Third, the neighbors have marched, organized, wrote letters, etc. That is how the judgment came down in the first place. But the power of those with moeny prevails. It is not a matter of using "violence" to stop innocent retailers! It is a matter of enforcing the law. It is a matter of taking seriously the quality of life issues in a poor neighborhood.

Your ideas about how great unfettered business is and how "holy" the free market is makes me wonder about how much you have actually observed about the way unchecked markets work when it comes to people and their lives.

Justin said...

I never said the markets always did the moral thing, but I could just as easily say I can't believe you think the government taking control of something is always going to do the moral thing.

I was unaware that the liquor stores in south dallas are owned by the wealthy. Most of the inner city small businesses I've been to are independently owned and operated. The gas station across the street from me is owned by a south asian family. Several other groceries and other stores around here are owned by families as well.

Its not just my supporting a free market system that makes me think this way. Its any time the government can come in and take your property for whatever reason. Its not fair to anyone. And it happens to poor people all the time. The government has a builder who wants to develop something in an urban area, but the people won't sell, so the government, who wants more tax dollars, claims "emminent domain" and gives them low dollar for their property and kicks them out. That is not fair.

I'm not saying its good to have liquor stores near a school, I'm just saying I'm leery of government enforcing a law that affects the livelyhood of someone. Rich or poor.

BTW, I don't know that this is pertinent, but what was there first, the school or the liquor store?

And by the way, I'm not saying its ok for the practice to occur in wealthy neighborhoods either. If people don't have a right to private property, you really don't have any rights. What's next? The people don't like the way your business is run, so they proposition the government to completely take it? I don't know, it just sounds like tyranny to me.

The whole reason I bring up violence is because, ultimately, law is backed up by violence. As a non violent follower of Jesus, I can't support violence or the threat of violence. And law is backed up through violence, because , ultimately, its what makes people follow the law. If you get a speeding ticket and you don't pay, they eventually will take you to jail, if you refuse to go to jail, they will shoot you or beat you until you submit. I guess that colors my ideology a bit... but unless the owner of the store is a decent person, the only way they can get him to stop operating is through threat or force, or actual force.

Maybe overwhelming love towards the owner might cause him to repent and become a Christian and a supporter of what you're doing in south dallas. I have a feeling, however, that petitioning the government to force him from his business will only make his heart hardened toward christians.

I hope you didn't feel I made this post in ill will or anything. I just have legitimate questions about your logic behind certain initiatives. If you don't want me to question what's going on anymore, I'll kindly quit commenting.

Fred said...

Simple question:Why is it the market can sustain 7 liquor stores?

That sort of saturation doesn't make a great deal of economic sense to me. But I've never lived there, do I don't know.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you've brought this issue to the public's eye. When public issues like prostitution, drug trafficking, and alcohol sales to minors are involved, I believe it is important to take a stand to eliminate the areas that promote these crimes. A vicious cycle is created when the same kids we want to save are surrounded by crime. Why is it that 11 liquor stores are all needed in that particular area of Dallas? Zoning and other city ordinances should play a part in solving this problem, but the most important thing is for people to care about what's happening in their city.

Fred said...

That's what I wonder -- why is it the market cannot sustain other businesses? The people that own the liquor are likely just in it for the money; could they not make more money with something else?

Michael Davis said...

Having lived in Uptown, Knox-Henderson, and now, Oak Cliff, I can tell you that the elected officials(as a whole) have failed. Especially in South Dallas.

Unfortunately, the neighbors have been left to fight for themselves in the past few years while the councilperson down there (Chaney) did little other than grandstand.

It's just like the motels; every time we close a motel we have to pay $1,000 while the council person can do it for free (but never has). I have receive death threats over closing motels, but no one lifts a finger.

This neighborhood will be better served come May/June, when a new person is elected that has the guts to fight for his/her community.

Mike said...

Okay, this strikes me as one of the craziest things I've heard in a long time:

"As a non violent follower of Jesus, I can't support violence or the threat of violence. And law is backed up through violence, because , ultimately, its what makes people follow the law."

Christians that can't support a system of law?! Time to break out the "Christians for Anarchy" bumper-stickers...

Larry James said...

Fred, your questions are right on target. The fact is neighborhoods like this one can sustain retail, especially for goods and services received in a grocery market. The challenge is getting the grocery retailers to believe that, put up with the unique challenges of doing developments in such areas and simply launch out and go for it.

Over a decade ago, Harvard professor Michael Porter published an important article in the Harvard Business Review, "The Economic Advantages of the Inner City" (circa 1994-1995). In that study Porter laid out the evidence for the untapped purchasing power of inner city neighborhoods like the one my post describes.

Cities need to "encourage" retailers to do projects in these communities.

Anonymous said...

There is a problem with teenage drinking and we always wonder why. If there are stores near schools that serve alcohol it is a temptation for students to indulge in underage drinking. The only way to cut down the numbers is to take away the temptation. There is no way to stop it because someone will always find away to get around it. It is time for people to stop trying to go around the problem but take it head on.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh! There are so many different issues it is hard to know which is more pertinent, especially because of the variety of comments this blog as provoked. I think that all the questions asked about how these businesses remain successful and who owns them are right on, but the main problem is that these illicit businesses and activities are threatening our children! How can anyone weigh the economic side of these stores more heavily than the damage being done to the children and values of the neighborhoods? The fact is that liquor stores could sadly be successful anywhere, so why not provide initiatives to these wealthy business owners and customers to go elsewhere. I know that may be easier said than done, but I am so angered by this that some new perspective needs to be applied Instead of protesting and writing letters, make the situation more desirable for everyone. Without liquor stores, drugs and prostitution near schools, students can learn in a better environment; and without the possibility of being caught selling to minors or threatening children, liquor stores would be better off in a different area. I know this is a difficult problem to solve, but it isn’t one that should be overlooked because there is never a situation that threatens children that is acceptable.

Anonymous said...


I have to agree with Mike's comment about Justin's last post. Justin, do you really believe that government cannot exercise force or its threat? If a madman with a gun is in your livingroom? If Canada invades Minnesota (for lack of a more credible external threat)? Wow, that would be taking an idea to its extreme! I've frankly got to ponder that one awhile. I've never even heard anyone so much as say that before.

Justin said...

I'm not saying the government can't do it, I'm saying I can't support it, because as a Christian, I am called to love my enemies, and threats of violence, or violence itself are not part of the teachings of Christ. I'm normally pretty post modern on stuff... but it is clear as crystal that we christians are to be non violent, and I believe, encompassing that is that we shouldn't support violence in any way shape or form, even if it is doing good. Redemptive violence is is a myth that started thousands of years ago, and God tried to make it right with Jesus. We didn't listen too well. But you can blame most of your ignorance on Augustine.

Justin said...

Well, anon, David Lipscomb and James Harding actually took that view. Not saying that government shouldn't be allowed to do any of those things. We're saying that as Christians, we can't support a government who is going to do those things.

Daniel Gray said...

"no" violence? absolutely none?

that sounds a LOT like the Pharisees who said "no" work, absolutely "no" work on the Sabbath -- even when "work" could have been done to help someone.

Yeah, violence (or the threat) isn't great, but sometimes there is a need for it.

What about God's violence towards Ananias and Sapphira? Or even God's actions in the OT... Are we saying that "violence" is never godly?

And for those who are of the persuasion that everything is attributable to God's rule (the good AND the bad), then if God "allows" violence to happen because of a greater good, then in essence God is sanctioning/responsible for violence.

I'm sorry... I hate violence. And I think Christians should avoid it. But completely ruling it out of the equation is just absurd.