I moved into a tough, inner-city neighborhood a little more than 1 1/2 years ago. We're rehabbing a house on a DIY, pay-as-you-go basis and trying to get involved in the multi-racial community as we go.
Last week, someone dropped off flyers at all our houses about a meeting to be held at the local community center. The topic was the renewal of a liquor license for a restaurant that lies at the end of my street about 100 yards away.
Last summer, I had been awakened by multiple gunshots from down the street. I checked out the local paper and learned that a security guard had engaged in a shootout with patrons at this restaurant. I learned from my next-door neighbor, who has lived here for 50 years, that this restaurant/bar has a long history of violence associated with it. On top of that, the liquor license for this place has been challenged repeatedly, she said, but they simply transfer it to a different family member or friend.
When I went to the meeting, it was obvious that there were two groups present. The first group consisted of the people in my neighborhood. The other was more complex. There were those directly connected to the restaurant bar owners: a 20+ year-old kid who was the latest in the family to hold the license; his lawyer; a security guard the restaurant had hired; a lawyer from the city who was supposed to represent those who objected to the renewal; the development association employees who organized the meeting.
After 20 minutes or so, it was clear that this was a dog-and-pony show. One resident after another who lived at that end of the street rose to tell horror stories about this restaurant/bar: dead bodies in their yards from firefights; bullet holes in their houses and cars; people coming onto their porches to engage in gunfights with others on the street and in the restaurant's parking lot. This is on top of people pissing in their yards, dropping condoms in their yards, etc.
The primary holder of the floor during this time was the security guard who did his best to intimidate those who objected to renewal of the license, accusing them of having a "vendetta" against the restaurant, implying perhaps that it was because it was Asian-owned, even though the neighborhood is pretty evenly split among Asians, African Americans and Eastern Europeans.
It was clear that the city lawyer was not there to gather stories and recruit witnesses against the renewal. I interjected a question and asked her directly what forums and procedures were involved in the license renewal and who bore the burden of proof.
She responded that the procedure involved:
1) a hearing in the city in which those opposed to renewal bore the burden;
2) a de novo hearing in the state capital--two hours away--in which a new advocate from the state AGs office was required to present the same evidence again and bear the burden of proof;
3) an appeal to the local district court down in the state capital;
4) an appeal to the state's court of appeals.
I responded that it appeared that a liquor license was not a privilege but a nearly irrevocable right, and she agreed. in fact, she appeared quite relieved that someone had exposed the truth about the true irrelevance of this meeting.
The meeting's purpose was obviously not to listen to the concerns of the community. If that were the case, the renewal would never have a chance. No one was in favor. Instead, it was to give the illusion of democracy. In fact, the city officials, the non-profit development agency and even the police (remarkably they were there too) all tacitly supported the renewal. Some did so because it was so difficult to oppose it. Others did so, I suspect, because they were paid off.
At one point, a woman rose to voice her objections. She had found a dead body in her yard a year earlier, and her house had several bullet holes from other gunfights. She responded to the glib assurances of the corporate whore security guard (for his revealed $3,000/month) that they would make sure everything was OK with something along these lines:
"I'll tell you what. If I get shot, or my husband gets shot, or one of my children gets shot, or one of my grandchildren, I'll come looking for you. You can be fucking sure I'll come look for you."
After the meeting, the restaurant owner came up to me and complimented my question. I told him that it looked to me like the only incentive for the real restaurant owner to improve the safety record of the place was the legal fees incurred when the renewal was challenged. I encouraged him to bill them liberally with no discount.
That restaurant is hardly the only problem we face. We are surrounded by high traffic streets with easy access to interstates. Accordingly, it's a attractive target area for robbery specialists. The chain drug store 50 yards south of us is held up on an almost weekly basis. Do they hire a security guard? Occasionally, I see some 20 year-old kid in there for a few days, but otherwise, they don't. I've raised the question with employees and even the manager about the lack of security that's common at some other chains in similar neighborhoods. The employees just look down and refuse to answer. The manager acts as if I'm a suspect.
Then there's entrepreneur across the street. There's some drug dealing. There's some after-hours club operations. So far, since we've been here. despite screaming arguments from 3-7 AM, there have been no gun shots. The cops come by occasionally, always in force. Three or four cars will come by, talk to the residents for a few minutes, talk to each other for an hour or so, and then move on. It's a city infamous for incompetence when it comes to major crimes and vicious violence against innocents.
Government is not working for many of us. It protects the powerful against even the inconvenience of protest from us. It also shields them even when they're guilty of crimes against the rest of us. At the same time, it does very little to protect us from the social instability that it and the Capitalist system have produced.
We're on our own here. A fellow about my age (60) told us at that meeting how his wife rode home from work on the bus at 2 AM every night. Recently, someone was following her (?), either from that restaurant or the bus stop. Her 60+ year-old husband was waiting for her to come home, and saw the person seemingly following her. He went out on the porch with his handgun and warned him that if he came another step, he'd shoot him. Was the man following her with ill intent? Was he just going home himself? We don't know.
But that's what it's like to live in a neighborhood where a liquor license and some irresponsible person's ability to make a buck is more important than a neighborhood's safety.
Who's to blame?
As Emil Brunner said:
"Capitalism is irresponsibility organized into a system."