Quick Fix for Violence: Cut Back on Liquor Stores
Abramson, Hilary, Nation's Cities Weekly
Eliminating the glut of inner-city alcohol outlets could cut the American homicide rate by 10 percent and save 2,000 lives annually, according to the author of a forthcoming book on alcohol and homicide.
Robert Nash Parker, senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif., spent five years examining violence in 256 cities from 1960-80 with Linda-Anne Rebhun, assistant professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. Their findings will be published by State University of New York Press this summer in Alcohol and Homicide: A Deadly Combination of Two American Traditions.
The study's conclusion: High alcohol outlet density not only coincides with high levels of violence in neighborhoods, but is a cause of it.
"There is plenty of research about what causes violence, but none consider the role of alcohol," says Parker. "Marvin Wolfgang, the founder of modern criminology, said in a 1958 study that alcohol is involved in two-thirds of all homicides. Part of the reason no one followed up on his finding, I believe, is that most of us consume alcohol and most of us are not violent."
`We have learned over the past 30 years that it is very difficult to eradicate poverty or other contributors to violence, such as the breakdown of social institutions. But we can control the availability of alcohol, which is tied to alcohol consumption that is an influence on violence.
"We can prevent new alcohol outlets from coming into communities that already have too many outlets. We can monitor existing outlets whose licenses are up for renewal. We're not talking about prohibition. We're saying, for instance, that we do not need 100 alcohol outlets per 1,000 people in California."
It is ironic, says the sociologist, that the glut of places to buy alcohol occurs in poor rather than affluent neighborhoods. "We know from very good data that as income goes up, so does alcohol consumption. Logically, we ought to place the glut of alcohol outlets where rich people live. Instead, we put seven or eight liquor stores on one block in a poor neighborhood with lots of alcohol advertising on the side of buildings. This gives off a signal that the neighborhood is a place where you can do what you want, where people can come to let loose, where anything goes."
It is time for society to look beyond violence and illegal drugs to the link between violence and alcohol, says Parker. "There is no doubt that illegal drugs are a major problem in this society and that violence is linked to illegal drugs. But the connection between violence and illegal drugs is fundamentally different from the link between violence and alcohol. With few exceptions, the violence associated with illegal drugs, especially homicide, is associated with the distribution and sale of drugs, not with the use of drugs.
"Even in cases where drug users commit crimes to finance drug purchases, these usually are property crimes and they are not committed under the influence of the drug. …