Liquor stores are the tinder for today's 'quiet riots'

I am in total agreement with writer Julius Colon's letter about the problem of nonconforming liquor stores in Baltimore ("Park Heights wants fewer liquor stores," June 26). His warning about the proliferation of liquor stores in his community and the perception that they contribute to the erosion of the quality of life, increased drug activity and crime is reminiscent of the handwriting on the wall in South Central Los Angeles 20 years ago that lead to the worst riots in the city's history.

The recent death of Rodney King, the poster child of the unforgettable police brutality that played out on national television in 1992, brought back memories of the havoc in the streets, burning buildings, looting and flash mobs that erupted as then Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack worked to help calm a city at war with itself.

The riot was fostered by a climate of consent for violence born of too many liquor stores being allowed to set up shop in clear violation of limits set by city officials.

However, the riots accomplished in three days what years of protests could not: 200 liquor stores were wiped out in a 51-square-mile swath of the city weighted down with more than 600 such establishments. According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, "the payoff was big: less crime, cleaner streets and fewer ugly scenes."

While the nation watched in horror thinking the riots were just about the beating of Rodney King, the economically disadvantaged people of the community reiterated with firebombs the message they had been trying to send to their elected representatives for years: "The growing number of liquor stores in our community is eroding our quality of life."

It was young children sent to these stores for Pampers, baby food, milk, bread and the like, as well as seniors in need of over the counter medicines, who suffered most from the burden of these stores.

The proliferation of liquor stores has destroyed the old paradigm of the "powder keg," which has morphed into the perpetually "smoldering flame" that, once ignited, jumps from one corner liquor store to the next.

Mr. Colon has given fair warning of what could happen here. I only hope the city's elected officials are listening.

John Milton Wesley, Columbia

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