What is the best way to extinguish a fire? Pour water on it or pour gasoline on it? While most people would say former without a moment’s hesitation, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown might just say “pour gasoline on it.”
Brown has proposed a bill to City Council to keep Philadelphia bars open an hour later, changing closing the time from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. Additional liquor tax revenue raised during this hour would go to fund Philadelphia public schools. Unfortunately, while Brown’s plan would raise significant funds for a struggling institution, its implementation would be like attempting to fight fires with lighter fluid.
In recent years, Philadelphia has consistently been the location of rampant crime activity. Gang and drug violence occurs frequently on the streets, and despite the best efforts of city officials and crime prevention forces, it is not getting any better. One contributing factor to urban violence is, indeed, poor education. University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig explained how a low-income or poverty stricken household can lead to an inferior education. This severely limits the availability of jobs and stable futures for lower class youth, and increases the chances that they will resort to crime and gang life for resources.
For that reason, it is essential that students in Philadelphia receive a quality education in order to obtain the skills, incentive and hope for a future. However, does it logically follow to use liquor tax revenues to fund this?
Rutgers University’s Crime Prevention Service published an article discussing the violence that frequently occurs in and around bars and clubs. It explains that the consumption of alcohol in general “is associated with aggression and violence” as well as how the general construct of bars encourage violence – everything from the large, packed-in crowds of people, excessive noise and heat, and smoking. Furthermore, verbal aggression and refusal of service can encourage violence and aggression. Finally, it explains that the general promotion of excessive hours – such as happy hour and extended bar hours – will inevitably lead to heightened violence and aggression.
This Rutgers study hit too close to home earlier this year on Jan. 14. Early that morning, 2010 alumnus Kevin Kless was beaten to death after leaving a bar in the Old City. Why? Police have stated that it appears that Kless’ three assailants were thrown into an alcohol-induced stupor after a misunderstanding about hailing a cab.
Taking all this into consideration, it would seem that the proposed legislation is, at best, counterproductive, and at worst destructive. In order to fund schools to better education so that children will be less inclined to street dwelling and violence, bars will be kept open later, thereby heightening the probability of violence. Though it has been argued that raising tobacco taxes to fund health care, and promoting gambling through the lottery are similar forms of fundraising, none of these is as dangerous as expanding the times of inebriation and violence on the streets of Philadelphia. For the greater good of the city, we can only hope that others council members bring water to fight this fire.
Sarah Elizabeth Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.