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Flint, MI–Flint City Councilman Maurice Davis said he believes liquor stores are “the demise of poor communities.”
He’s proposing a new ordinance to close liquor stores, gas stations and convenience stores earlier, which he thinks will mitigate problems with violent crime in Flint.
The draft of the ordinance, written by Davis and Councilman Allan Griggs, calls for the hours of operation of these stores to be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Punishment for not following the ordinance includes a $500 fine or imprisonment for up to 90 days.
Davis said this ordinance would be the “beginning of turning neighborhoods around” and “becoming a community, not a ghetto.”
The ordinance was brought up for discussion at the city council meeting Wednesday night.
Councilman Griggs said the ordinance could just apply during the pandemic, but Davis said that would not be sufficient for his ward. He wants it in place permanently.
“We’re tired of the nuisance and crime that’s in this community,” Davis said.
Councilman Herbert Winfrey expressed his support for the ordinance, calling it “a way…this council can protect our citizens.”
“It is absolutely…outrageous for any business person to think that they can come into this community, and do what they will…take those resources, and then just leave us with the folks that create problems,” Winfrey said.
During public comment, a few speakers spoke in support of the ordinance.
Eleanor Jones of the 5th ward said there are “non stop issues and crack dealing” at the gas station in her neighborhood.
Veronica Parker called the activities at the liquor stores “so wicked.”
“It’s an injustice this poor Black majority community is being poisoned all night by these predatory owners, while more affluent families in suburbs get peace and quiet,” she said.
Last week, the city released a press release sharing information from a preliminary data analysis done by the Flint police department regarding calls to 911 from liquor stores and gas stations in Flint.
Chief Terence Green said it was clear from the data “that these businesses are hotspots for criminal activity.”
The analysis found that “24 locations resulted in a total of 1,038 calls to 9-1-1 and 95 validated crimes from Jan. 1, 2020 to Oct. 12, 2020.”
One establishment, open until 2 a.m., had 193 calls to 911 so far this year.
At the council meeting, Councilman Eric Mays said those thousand calls only make up “2 percent of the calls” to 911.
“The other 98 percent is in the community,” Mays said.
He brought up how the the majority of councilmembers voted not to give money to former Police Chief Tim Johnson to hire new officers.
“When people are hanging out in my ward, store owners call the police. They can’t get no police,'” Mays said.
He said that the real problem here is not about the hours of operation, but about having police and security.
“Why shut ’em down at 7? You shut ’em down at 9, now somebody gets killed on the side street at 8,” he said. “That ain’t the solution.”
Neil Shango of Liquor Corner on Saginaw St. said he doesn’t mind the ordinance, if it works.
“It will hurt my business for sure, but if that will solve crime, no problem,” he said. “I’m just not sure it will work.”
He said crime has become “normal” outside of his store which is open until 2 a.m., but that it happens at all times of the day.
“There’s crime in the morning and the afternoon,” he said. “7 a.m., 4 p.m., or 9 p.m., people are doing the same thing.”
A review of studies about alcohol outlets and alcohol-related harms published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that “greater outlet density is associated with increased alcohol consumption and related harms, including medical harms, injury, crime, and violence. “
Additionally, a study about the communities where alcohol outlets are most dense found “a disproportionate concentration of alcohol outlets and advertisements in low-income minority communities,” which speaks to complaints brought forth during the council meeting’s public comment.
“If the liquor stores wasn’t in the neighborhood, none of that crime would exist, but I’m not proposing we close them down, I’m just proposing we close them earlier,” Davis said.
A study about the effectiveness of restricting liquor store hours found that “increasing hours of sale by 2 or more hours increases alcohol-related harms,” but did not have sufficient data about the effectiveness of restricting hours. Still, authors wrote that “policies decreasing hours of sale by 2 hours or more at on-premises alcohol outlets may be an effective strategy for preventing alcohol-related harms.”
Another study about restricting the days alcohol is sold, found that “increasing days of sale leads to increases in excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms and that reducing the number of days that alcoholic beverages are sold generally decreases alcohol-related harms.”
Shango said he hopes the ordinance will apply to all stores that sell alcohol, not just liquor stores, but Davis said that won’t be the case.
“All they have to do is hire security to clear off unwanted people when they’re doing illegal illicit activity. Meijer does that,” Davis said, comparing liquor stores to the grocery store chain that sells liquor and is open until midnight. “That’s the difference. The treatment over here is not the same treatment and I’m tired of it.”
Davis said people wish they had more grocery stores like Meijer in neighborhood communities.
Liquor Corner also sells food, and Shango thinks the earlier closing times could pose problems for people who come to his store for groceries.
“It’s a walking neighborhood, we have a lot of walking people. There is no grocery store around here, so a lot of people buy food here,” he said.
Davis said that’s not what the liquor stores in Flint are really about.
“I’m a traveling musician and when I get to a city, I know when I’m in the hood because I look at liquor stores and plainly see it,” he said. “They’re wrapped with beer signs. It’s never about milk, meat and necessities. It’s always about liquor.”
The ordinance is set to come up for further discussion at the Oct. 26 city council meeting.