When you drive through Los Angeles inner city, commonly known as “the ‘hood”, it seems as if there is a liquor store on every corner. You are not far wrong, my friend. A search of zip codes showed there are 45 liquor stores in the city of Compton which is only 10.1 square miles in size, whereas there were no liquor stores within five miles of the cities of Newport Beach or Irvine in Orange County, California.
This research intends to investigate the problems associated with liquor stores in the inner city, such as, racial tension between black residents and Korean shop owners, alcohol and drug-induced states, violence, the type of alcoholic products offered, and the lack of enforcement of regulations by store owners and government.
Many in the inner city believe that Korean store owners don’t care about the black community based on several incidents that began with the L.A. riots 20 years ago. Black patrons have been killed by Korean owners, sometimes for slight reasons, or owners were let off lightly.
The effects of the products, such as malt liquor, which is manufactured by white-owned companies and only sold in black and Latino neighborhoods, keep the clientele in a stupor and as a result violence is high in these communities. Many of these liquor stores tolerate patrons “hanging out” on the pavement and illegal activities like drug dealing on their premises, which continues the cycle in the inner city.
I did not find existing research specifically on the effects of liquor stores on the inner city so I used newspaper accounts and government statistics to formulate my methodology.
According to the New York Beacon (Samad, 1992), there were 728 liquor stores in South Los Angeles before the 1992 L.A. riots occurred. That translates into 728 locations where members of the community could purchase liquor to stay inebriated and not in their right minds. In a January, 2000 article the Los Angeles Sentinel (the oldest and largest black-owned newspaper in America) published an article about Korean store owners who felt they were being subjected to discrimination by the city of Los Angeles (Pleasant). A law was passed requiring troubled stores to hire fulltime security guards at their stores during business hours. Many of these store owners have been accused of perpetuating the crime in their areas by selling liquor to minors, continuing to serve intoxicated patrons, and allowing drug transactions to take place in plain sight.
In 1992, two weeks after Rodney King’s beating, 15-year old Latasha Harlins placed a bottle of orange juice in her backpack and was approached and then shot by the Korean shop owner. The young black lady had money in her hand to pay for the product. The Los Angeles Sentinel (Aubrey, 1991) asserts that the events on that day contributed to the motivation for the riots in 1992.
In June 1991, Lee Arthur Mitchell, a 43-year old black man, was gunned down by a Korean Liquor store owner because the owner thought that Mitchell was there to rob him according to the Los Angeles Sentinel. Conflict arises because neither community seems to understand or trust the other.
Based on these articles which cast Korean shop owners in a poor light, I decided to explore the current relationship between the black community and Korean owners 20 years after the riots, including reasons for patrons to frequent the stores, or to boycott them, and how store owners regard their customers. As Negotiation Conflict Resolution and Peace building (NCRP) students, our goal is to find the underlying problems that cause particular conflicts -- this article attempts to do the same. We will hear from store owners, black community members who purchase from the liquor stores, and others who refuse to patronize the stores.
I chose a qualitative approach using interview questions and observations for this research. The selection process was interesting -- I wanted to make sure that the participants were capable of giving relevant and appropriate responses. I used a convenience sample from people I knew in the neighborhood.
I had two groups of subjects: (1) five black community members (members), and (2) three Korean store owners (owners). I interviewed each participant individually and recorded their responses as they gave them. Comfort level was certainly one of my main concerns for both groups. The participants spoke freely once they became comfortable. I realized that if the researcher is not prepared the participants will notice and affect the entire process. I interviewed the members sitting on the porch drinking Pepsi. My goal was to make them feel comfortable and not seem as if they were being interrogated. There was difficulty with a couple of the members who are major consumers of alcohol because they did not adhere to our agreed meeting times.
I interviewed the store owners in the back rooms of their respective stores. I started out with small talk and thanked them for their willingness to participate in the research. They were overjoyed to participate and gave good responses. The three different stores are located in Compton, Watts and South Los Angeles. California. I experienced a language barrier with one owner as he tried his best to get his points across. I had to ask him to repeat himself several times to make sure I recorded the correct responses.
It was great to get firsthand information and not have to rely on secondhand research. After analyzing the responses I was amazed how many of our brothers and sisters are victims of liquor stores and do not realize it.
Questions: Five community members:
Q1. Do you shop at liquor stores?
Q2. How often do you go -- 0, 2+, or 4+ (per day, per week?)
Q3. Do liquor stores perpetuate crime in the inner city?
Q4. What has your experience been with Korean store owners?
Q5. Would you support shutting down liquor stores in the inner city?
I noted the education and mental capacity of the five members when I analyzed the results, for instance, “Frank” & “Mark” purchased from liquor stores four or five times a day, usually buying two beers at a time. Neither of them graduated from high school and both are unemployed. “Shirley” graduated from high school, but is unemployed. She buys beer and cigarettes from liquor stores daily. The other two members did not like the way blacks are treated in the liquor stores, and refused to patronize them (non-patrons). “Jamie” is a college-educated black woman who stated that she does not shop at liquor stores because she does not drink and thinks that owners have no respect for black people. “Randall” is a 56 year old black man who does not shop at liquor stores because of the disrespect from store owners toward black people -- “owners have killed black shoppers for no reason.”
Results Q4: What has been your experience with Korean store owners?
Mark: “I just go and buy my beer and I don’t have much to say to them.”
Shirley: “They are ok, I guess. They look at me funny and make me hurry and leave.”
Jamie: “I feel like they use our people to make money. I refuse to buy from a liquor store because it supports the violence and mind altering that is taking place in our neighborhood.”
Randall: “I haven’t been to a liquor store in 20 plus years. I refuse to allow these store owners to disrespect me. Plain and simple young brother, they do not care about people who look like you and I.”
Questions: Three Korean store owners:
Q1. Do you think your store is helping or hurting the community?
Q2. Are you suspicious of your black customers?
Q3. Why do you sell liquor to clearly intoxicated individuals?
Q4. Give some positive traits about your store.
Q5. Are you willing to have a dialogue with the black community about the connection of crime to liquor stores like these?
Results: Korean Store Owners:
The responses I received from the three store owners were similar:
Q1. They feel their commitment is to themselves and their families. They all said that they just want to “make a living.”
Q2. All three said they are not “suspicious” of their black customers and that they treat all customers the same.
Q3. They said they are not there to police the neighborhood and cannot tell people that they are not allowed to purchase alcohol if they are old enough to buy it.
Q4. All three said that they try to help people when they do not have enough money, and often give away free products to customers they have known for years who are having a hard time surviving.
Q5. They all said that they were willing to participate in a dialogue session with black community members, but feared they would be outnumbered and ridiculed.
Discussion of Results
Although the black community members interviewed share the same ethnic and cultural backgrounds they fell into two polarized groups – patrons who frequent the liquor stores on a daily basis, and non-patrons who vehemently refuse to step inside. The non-patrons want to see the stores closed because they perpetuate crime and exploit the community, but realize that the problem is bigger than simply saying “don’t buy liquor from these stores.” They are better educated, employed, and have experience shopping elsewhere. On the other hand, the store patrons were all unemployed and only one of them had graduated from high school. Although two of the three agreed that the stores promote crime, none of them supported closing them down. They are proof of how easy access to toxic products can alter their minds.
The interview results from the Korean store owners were consistent – all three stated they were just trying to make a living, treat all customers the same regardless of race, and were too intimidated to have dialogues. This contradicts the opinions from the non-patrons.
There are few regulations on these stores and the owners have denied responsibility for managing how much liquor they sell to customers who clearly have a problem. Their goal is to make money, even if it is at the demise of a person, or an entire community.
My research revealed that many in the black community have become complacent and allowed liquor stores to flourish. During the 1990s here was a major push to force the closure of a large number of liquor stores in the inner city. After the L.A. riots many of the damaged stores applied for permits to reopen and most received them. “Big box” stores and supermarkets promised to rebuild riot-torn L.A., but few made good on their promises. The liquor stores fill a gap as local mini-markets with higher prices.
The relationship between the black community and the Korean owners depends on who you talk to -- the patrons accept the arrangement in order to purchase one or two cans of alcohol at a time, the non-patrons feel exploited and disrespected, and the Koreans just want to keep a low profile.
There are still questions that remain unanswered but the overall goal is to bring peace to inner city communities. I plan to be a catalyst of change to help ensure that future generations have a fair chance at succeeding in life and attaining a rich education regardless of where they come from.
Aubry, L. (1991, October 17). Death and violence: Unfortunate equalizers. Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved from http://0-proquest.umi.com.torofind.csudh.edu/pqdweb?did=1493138011&sid=5&Fmt=3&clientId=17844&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Pleasant, B. (2000, January 26). Korean liquor store owners call city safety laws discriminatory. Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved from http://0-proquest.umi.com.torofind.csudh.edu/pqdweb?did=490560361&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=17844&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Samad, A. (1992, September 25). Weaning a community from a drunken stupor. The New York Beacon. Retrieved from http://0-proquest.umi.com.torofind.csudh.edu/pqdweb?did=468898711&sid=3&Fmt=3&clientId=17844&RQT=309&VName