Deal to Curb Sales of Paraphernalia Sours
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Twenty-one beer and wine stores in Ward 8 had agreed to stop selling items that double as crack pipes, rolling papers and baggies that police say aid in the use and distribution of illegal drugs.
But at a news conference yesterday to announce the deal, only two business owners showed, and even they did not sign the agreement, angering civic and government officials who had spent months working to broker the deal.
"They totally disrespect the black community," said Anthony Muhammad, a Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, during the news conference yesterday in Congress Heights.
"This is just devastating," said Phil Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Committee, which has sought the changes for nearly a decade.
Gary Cha, speaking on behalf of most of the business owners, said race was not an issue and that owners want minor changes to the agreement, including the removal of a requirement to monitor illegal activity inside and outside their stores. Cha also said the agreement is overreaching, citing provisions requiring owners to regulate when children shop, prevent loitering and limit advertisements for tobacco and alcohol.
"The retailers said, 'We don't want to put a noose around our neck and hope they don't tug on it,' " said Cha, president of the Korean American Business Association of Greater Washington. "We want to improve the relationship with the community. We don't want to go backward."
Until the businesses sign an agreement to stop selling paraphernalia, residents said they will continue to use their most effective tactic: challenging the liquor licenses of the offending businesses. Most of the businesses are near large commercial corridors, including along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Alabama Avenue SE.
For years, residents and business owners have viewed one another warily. Muhammad spoke for community leaders who felt that the businesses -- mostly owned by Koreans -- ogled their mostly black patrons through clear plastic windows, spent little on upkeep and looked the other way as drugs and alcohol ravaged the community.
About 60,000 District residents, or 12 percent of the population, have a substance abuse problem, according to the D.C. Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration. Partly as a result, police say, liquor stores, food carryouts and gas stations stock items used in the illegal drug trade, including tiny rose vases that double as crack pipes, rolling papers used to smoke marijuana and small plastic bags used to package drugs.
The Anacostia Coordinating Council had spent almost a decade trying to get the items off shelves, using poster drives and private meetings with business owners to try and shame them into compliance.
But what really worked was the council's latest tactic: challenging liquor store licenses. Two neighborhood advisory commissioners also signed on to the task, hoping to get store owners to keep their stores cleaner and prevent loitering, particularly at those near school buildings. Since the effort began in January, store owners have agreed to talks and even sponsored a dinner for community residents to listen to their concerns.
And signs of progress are popping up. Next to the cooler of Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird malt liquors at King's Mini Market in Anacostia, for instance, is a sign alerting patrons that the store no longer sells crack pipes and rolling papers.
Last month, during a meeting at the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration office, community leaders thought they had a deal.
So did Cynthia Simms, the ABRA's community resource officer, who was assigned to help the groups resolve their differences. Some businesses, she said, were concerned the agreement would put them at a competitive disadvantage because carryouts and gas stations would not be affected by the agreement. Her response: "The sale of these items is against the law."
Jamil Malik, who owns Liff's Market on Alabama Avenue SE, said he was disturbed about the language requiring businesses to not sell any goods to children during school hours.
"I cannot fight the whole day with children," said Malik, who attended the news conference but did not sign the agreement when others did not show up.