Cut alcohol, control crime

May 16, 2000|By Dr. Norman A. Handy

ALTHOUGH LEGAL, the drug of alcohol is perhaps the most lethal substance consumed in our nation.

It is responsible for more than 470,000 deaths each year. This is a public health crisis that is drowning our nation and city in a sea of crime and violence. It is particularly exacerbating in communities where there is a proliferation of retail liquor outlets.

More than half of all homicides and serious assaults are alcohol-related, as well as more than one-third of all trauma cases. Alcohol plays a particularly lethal role in rape, sexual assault and incidents of domestic violence.

Fully more than half of those convicted of violent crimes in Baltimore had used alcohol just before the offense. Even more distressing is the reality that our murder rate is directly related to the over-consumption of alcohol by youths who are involved in drug dealing and who have access to highly potent malt liquors, many of which are available only in city stores.

In a book entitled "The Winnable War," the authors studied violent crime in five major cities, including Baltimore. They documented that more than 80 percent of the crimes committed occurred within a five-block radius of the "open-air drug markets" there.

In Baltimore, the majority of these "markets" are adjacent to or near a liquor outlet.

Case in point: most of the drug activity in Charles Dutton's, HBO special, "The Corner," occurs outside a liquor store. Not only does this produce the results mentioned earlier, but it also prevents economic and community development. Few businesses looking to locate in the city will co-locate where there is a liquor store.

Just how bad is the glut of liquor outlets in Baltimore?

Our city is 84-plus square miles and has more than 1,600 liquor outlets. Compare us to Anne Arundel County, which has 741 square miles and only 417 outlets. Montgomery County is more than 800 square miles and has less than 40 liquor outlets. Washington is only 12 square miles but, has more than 1,500 liquor outlets. Guess which jurisdictions also have the highest concentration of poverty, crime and violence, and human suffering? Baltimore has more liquor outlets than 26 of the 50 states.

The City Council of Baltimore is debating legislation that would give its citizens the right to vote where -- and if -- they want liquor outlets in their communities.

Our legislation would preempt the designation of that right to the state. On Chicago's South Side, for example, the use of similar legislation resulted in the closing of a mere 27 liquor outlets. The concomitant result, however, was a . 60 percent reduction in the murder rate in that section of the city

Other cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., using similar legislative measures, also have reduced their murder and violence levels significantly.

Baltimore desperately needs this bill as part of its comprehensive strategy to save itself from drowning in a vast sea of crime and violence catalyzed by the proliferation of liquor outlets in our city. You can help. Contact the City-Wide Liquor Coalition at 410-539-1369 to lend your support.

Dr. Norman A. Handy, Sr., is a member of the Baltimore City Council from District 6 and is chairman of its Public Safety Committee.

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