It is hard to believe, but Brothers Liquor, long-time supplier of refreshment to the Long Haul’s neighborhood, has been pinned down as the root source of all drug dealing, reckless driving, loud music, and general evil-doing in the south Berkeley stretch of Shattuck Avenue. In fact, one might even posit that Brothers Liquor is the source of all Black People in the neighborhood. Or so you might think after hearing testimony at the Berkeley City Council meeting January 15, 2002 regarding the designation of Brothers as a public nuisance. The City Council certainly was blown away by the evidence: they went from designating the store a public nuisance to revoking the owner’s business license at the close of the public hearing.
Neighbors organized in a group called PAIN, People Against Insanity in the Neighborhood, complained of drug dealing, prostitution, public pissing, shitting, and sex, loud music, and rudeness on the part of the store owners.
Strangely enough, a completely different scene was portrayed by another group of neighbors. The latter group of supporters spoke of caring owners who knew them by name and would extend store credit, and appreciated the safety of having a well-lit place open late at night on the way home from BART (commuter trains). Supporters also pointed out that many of the complaints leveled at Brothers’ could be equally applied to the Starry Plough, a well-known Irish pub a block away. Furthermore, supporters noted that, while they felt perfectly safe in the Brothers’ parking lot, drug dealing is common all along that stretch of Shattuck Ave.
It was shocking but true: almost all those opposed to the store were white, while Brothers’ supporters were majority black. By the end of the meeting the city council chamber was split nearly down the middle. Such a racial divide in the backwards South, sure, but in fair Berkeley? A number of the black speakers mentioned prejudice and carried signs denouncing the racism in the ruling.
Few benefit from street drug dealing and reckless driving, but it is extreme and utter bullshit that Brothers take the heat for these activities all along the 7 block stretch. Brothers is not responsible for what people do before or after they come to the store. Or is the liquor store responsible for alcoholism? This scapegoat has been drawn and quartered by the white homeowners in the area. Of course people should have input into what they live next to. But when two distinct stories are told by sizeable groups of people divided down color lines, the whole situation needs to be carefully examined in light of race and class privilege.