A lawyer representing a Korean American grocer’s group called a Baltimore City Council bill banning youths from purchasing items in liquor stores racially motivated.
Bryan Everett, legal advisor for KAGRO-MD, said the bill’s exemption for so called "tavern licenses," which allow restaurants to sell liquor over the counter, but not on the licenses for standard liquor stores is proof of the bill’s racial motivations.
"A minority of BD-7s are owned by Korean Americans, OK. That’s why they were left out. So motives I think here—even though they’re saying they’re not concerned about race, and ‘We’re not even going to consider that argument’—I think is disingenuous," Everett said.
In his testimony against the bill, during the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee hearing on Wednesday, Everett referenced 19th Century "Chinese Laundry Laws" used to close businesses owned by Asians in San Francisco.
Councilman James Kraft, the committee’s chair, quickly shot down that argument and warned Everett not to proceed with that strategy.
"Don’t go there, seriously. Just don’t go there," Kraft said.
Councilman Nick Mosby, the bill’s sponsor, denied race plays a roll in his pursuit of passing the legislation. He said the bill is specifically designed to prevent children from becoming conditioned to making purchases from liquor stores.
"It has nothing to do about any race, any group. We’re not trying to put anyone out of business. The only thing this is about, and the only thing this is targeting, is our youth, and protecting their futures," Mosby said. "So I would love to have any discussion with anybody to try to understand how this attacks anyone."
Mosby said that he doesn’t take offense at Everett’s remarks, but called the allegation his bill is racist "a huge stretch."
The bill also faced opposition from . Stanley Fine, an attorney representing the store, said the market does between 20 to 25 percent of its business from alcohol sales.
"This bill gives us great heartburn," Fine said.
Mosby told Fine that the bill is not intended to impact businesses like Eddie’s, and that he was open to amending the bill to make sure the grocer, which opened in 1944, was not aversely impacted.
Hampden resident Shannon Dawkins Wrenn also spoke against the bill. Wrenn, a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, testified that the city already has food deserts, and that liquor stores were simply answering the demand by selling food in those areas.
"I also think it's naive that banning youths will solve alcohol problems. We banned drugs, it hasn’t solved drug problems," Wrenn said.
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But supporters of the bill argued that it was necessary to help protect kids, especially poor youth living in the city’s struggling neighborhoods.
Donald Smith, now a Hamilton resident who grew up in Gwynn Oaks, said this issue is a socio-economic one that disproportionately impacts poor neighborhoods that are saturated with liquor stores.
"You can’t compare [those problems] to Roland Park or to Eddie’s," Smith said.
The Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee is scheduled to vote on the legislation at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.