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Groups Say Sale of Some Alcohol Targets High-Crime Areas

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DURHAM — People go to the store, buy a beer and probably don't think twice about it, but there are several groups who say the type of beer sold in their neighborhoods unfairly targets blacks.

At least one Durham store is in the middle of the malt liquor debate.

The controversy surrounds the sale of 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor, know as "forties", only in heavily black neighborhoods. Some groups are so angry about that, they want to ban the sale of 40 ounce malt liquor bottles.

The beverages contain six percent alcohol, which is nearly twice that of an average beer. Add to that the additional quantity, and the "forties can pack quite a punch.

They are popular in some areas, but many people don't want them sold in their neighborhoods. Jackie Wagstaff says, in her neighborhood, a "forty" is comparable to a crack pipe. Wagstaff heads the community group Northeast Central Durham Partners Against Crime. She says merchants out to make a quick profit target vulnerable people in vulnerable areas.

"I live in one of the high-crime area," said Wagstaff. "It's just basically, most of the time, when I see 40 ounces in a poverty-stricken, high-crime, at-risk area. I've been all over Durham, and I've yet to see a 40 ounce show up in one of the upper-class neighborhoods."

WRAL-TV5'sMark Robertsdid an informal study of his own. He found that, once you get outside a five mile radius of the high-crime area, there are no forties to be found.

Store manager Allen O'Neal said the city asked him to voluntarily stop selling the large containers of malt liquor.

"The public requests it," said O'Neal. "They're going to get it somewhere. I just would like my opportunity to be able to sell it responsibly."

O'Neal said he loses about $1,000 per week by not selling the forties.

Some business owners who do a brisk business in forties were reluctant to talk about it. One merchant refused to sell one to Roberts when she recognized him, saying he would just bring bad publicity to her store.