The racist subtext of Philly's ban on convenience store protective glass barriers
Shopkeepers in Philadelphia's neighborhood convenience stores that serve food and beverages, locally referred to as "beer delis," face a legal prohibition on the thick glass barriers around cashiers that protect them from stickup artists wielding guns, knives, and other weapons. Because the shopkeepers predominately are Asian, and the customers (and robbers) are mostly black, this imbroglio looks a lot like a racist quest for vengeance against a commercially successful minority group.
Julie Shaw of the Philadelphia Inquirer provides the details:
Despite strong opposition from Asian American beer deli owners and their supporters, Philadelphia City Council voted, 14-3, Thursday to approve a bill that most members said would enhance neighborhoods, but that the merchants fear could jeopardize their safety and livelihood.
Mayor Kenney's office said he would sign the bill.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced the bill Nov. 2 as part of an effort to rid the city of what she has called illegal stop-and-go outlets. Although much of the bill involves categorizing food establishments by size for city licensing purposes, one paragraph generated huge protests and polarized communities, exposing fissures involving race, class, and perceptions of immigrants.
That paragraph called for banning bullet-resistant windows in large food establishments. Beer deli owners were affected because state law requires them to have at least 30 seats. Many of the owners, who are largely Asian American, decried the bill, saying removing the safety windows would expose them to being robbed, injured, or killed. But Bass called such windows, which separate food servers from customers, "an indignity."
On Dec. 4, Council's Committee on Public Health and Human Services amended the bill, removing the mandatory window ban on large establishments, and instead instructing the Department of Licenses and Inspections to issue by Jan. 1, 2021, regulations for "the use or removal of any physical barrier" in places that serve food and alcohol. The amended bill was unanimously approved that day by the committee.
This leaves the shopkeepers at the mercy of inspectors, who can decide on their own which protective barriers will not be permitted. They have every reason to be concerned:
Mouy Chheng, the first to speak against, said her 19-year-old son was fatally shot by two armed robbers at the family's South Philly convenience store in 2003 when it did not have a bullet-resistant window.
Peter Ly, a West Philly beer deli owner who made news after he was shot three times in December 2011 when he went to deposit money at a Cheltenham bank, told Council of another incident a decade ago when he was shot six times during a gunpoint robbery at a beer deli he then owned on Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia with no bullet-resistant window. He has a partition in his current business.
If you take down my bulletproof glass," he said, "I will not be lucky next time."
City Councilman David Oh, a Korean American who has opposed the bill specifically because business owners could be ordered to remove their safety-glass windows, said he feared removing them could increase crime and cause more proprietors to buy guns. "I will not expose [beer deli owners] or anyone else to the risk that they could be killed," he said.
The stated reasons for opposition to the protective devices are aesthetic – that they create an undesirable atmosphere – and ideological – that the "beer delis" put out harmful, addictive substances (beer!). The latter reason presumes that if the delis are driven out of business, then neighborhoods will be free of alcohol abuse – an approach that has been proven futile by the progressives' attempt at national prohibition of alcohol.
If the Department of Licenses and Inspections, in its infinite wisdom, decides to prohibit most or all of the protective barriers, stand by for complaints of "food deserts" as shop owners close up and move to locales outside the city limits of Philadelphia, where their lives are less endangered.
People who have been paying attention to urban life for the past few decades realize that Asian-Americans who open stores in black neighborhoods are subject to intense resentment because black store-owners have failed to materialize in large numbers, and because shopkeepers guard against theft, regarded by some on the left as a social justice activity, redistributing wealth to the victims of society.
This will not end well.