The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every year, alcohol-related mortality accounts for over 140,000 deaths in the U.S., making it the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the country (CDC, 2022). Moreover, studies have shown that increased accessibility to alcohol is associated with higher alcohol consumption and public health risks such as underage drinking, intimate partner and gender-based violence, and overall crime (Lee et al., 2020).
Moreover, as a result of discriminatory urban land use policies in the 1930s, also known as “redlining,” low-income communities of color see an overconcentration of liquor stores in their neighborhoods. Redlining created certain zones that segregated high-income white communities from low-income non-white communities and even businesses, including alcohol retailers (Lee et al., 2020). This explains why there is an abundance of liquor stores in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods in Los Angeles, especially South Los Angeles. Decades of economic disinvestment in neighborhoods like South Los Angeles made it difficult to attract other retail developers and small businesses, further contributing to the overconcentration of liquor stores in these areas (Mitchell, 2020).
Aiming to transform the social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles, Mayor Karen Bass and a group of community organizers founded a non-profit called Community Coalition in 1990 (Community Coalition, 2023). After the 1992 LA Uprising, which was catalyzed by the brutal assault of Rodney King by four LAPD officers, Community Coalition launched a campaign to “Rebuild South Central Without Liquor Stores.” Despite the destruction of approximately 200 liquor stores in Los Angeles during the LA Uprising, Community Coalition and other activist groups saw this tragedy as an opportunity to transform their community (Flores, 2019). However, some liquor store owners in Los Angeles claim that their stores also serve the community, in that they provide other places for residents to do their grocery store shopping, especially in neighborhoods that are known to be “food deserts” (Flores, 2019). Thus, instead of ridding liquor stores in their entirety, activists have advocated for the transformation of liquor stores into mini-marts and grocery stores with healthier food options for community members. Working together with liquor store owners, community organizers and organizations like Community Coalition are continuing to build a version of Los Angeles that promotes a better quality of life for residents.
Written by Stephanie Liem