Daiquiris and drive-bys

More liquor stores in a neighborhood mean more drinking. They also mean more violence.

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Would you go a mile or two out of your way for the neighborhood liquor store? What if it was only half a block away, and there were a couple more like it down the street? Not surprisingly, researchers have found that the number of alcohol outlets in a given area is directly related to how much alcohol that area consumes. “We have a whole body of science,” says Robert Reynolds of the Pacific Center for Violence Prevention, “that says if you increase the physical distance between outlets, the amount of drinking in a community goes down.”

And, notably, so may the violence. A soon-to-be-released book by sociologist Robert Nash Parker, “Alcohol and Homicide: A Deadly Combination of Two American Traditions,” cites a 20-year study of 256 U.S. cities demonstrating that alcohol outlet density has a significant effect on that area’s homicide rates, and that the nationwide increase in outlet density from 1960 to 1980 played a major role in the skyrocketing violence during that period.

In his study, Parker was able to factor out other causes of inner-city violence such as poverty, ethnicity, and family structure. He concluded that high alcohol outlet density doesn’t just coincide with a high level of violence in the area, but is in fact a cause of it. Other studies show that almost 50 percent of convicted homicide offenders used alcohol prior to committing their crimes; a Canadian study shows 42 percent of all violent incidents involve alcohol consumption.

Activists working to stem violence are already arming themselves with Parker’s statistics. In Salinas, California, local activists persuaded the city council to deny licensure to a liquor outlet by using Parker’s data, according to activist Linda Padilla-Sanchez, “to back up our emotional outcry against liquor-store saturation.” Parker and his colleagues hope his research empowers other communities to prevent alcohol outlets, and the attendant culture of violence, from overrunning their neighborhoods.

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