Something is going on in the City of Brotherly Love which doesn’t make much sense at first glance. The City Council has approved legislation which will allow Licenses & Inspections (L&I) to mandate certain changes to local eateries known as “beer delis” or force them to close down. At first glance this doesn’t sound all that unusual because all municipalities have their own system of codes to regulate local businesses. Some of the shops sell alcohol and food, though not much of the latter, and the city wants them to have particular seating availability and public restrooms. Again… not all that unusual.

One of the catches comes with the fact that L&I is specifically being allowed to forbid the use of “bulletproof” plexiglass barriers in the establishments. (I’m using scare quotes there because true bulletproof barriers tend to be a bit more robust, but these can at least help.) That has the shop owners both angry and nervous. (CBS Philadelphia)

A bill targeting “beer delis” passed City Council this week.

Asian business owners call it a “kill bill,” referring to a provision that could remove plexiglass barriers.

Kenny’s Seafood and Steak on Wayne Avenue in North Philadelphia has tall plexiglass barriers lined on the inside with beer cans and cigarette boxes and with little if any food for sale.

“This does not fit the requirements of being a restaurant,” says Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who sponsored the bill which passed City Council 14 to 3.

The further you read into the details, the stranger this all sounds. The “beer delis” are located in a particularly rough neighborhood with serious crime problems. The owners claim that robberies, shootings and assaults on proprietors and staff are a constant worry. The plexiglass barriers may be the only thing keeping them safe.

Adding to the unpleasant aspect of this debate is the accusation that the neighborhood is mostly black and the residents would like to drive the Asian-owned businesses out. Local council members deny the charges, but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen rough relationships between different minority communities in large cities. (Just look into the history of Camden, New Jersey in the eighties and early 90s when there were literal race wars going on there which didn’t even involve whites.)

How worried should the Asian deli owners be about losing their protective shielding? Not to harp on this point too much, but the argument is unfolding just as Philadelphia hit a rather grim milestone. They recently recorded their 300th murder of the year, up nearly 15% from 2016 and one of the worst kill rates since the 90s.

Grieving families are pleading for change as Philadelphia reaches a grim milestone of 300 people murdered this year…

Authorities say 2017’s homicide count is a 13 percent jump from 2016 and the first time in five years homicides tipped the 300 mark.

Debra Kennedy is the face of a mother behind one of those 300. Her son James was murdered in August. “He was so sweet. So free loving. So fun. He was a very charismatic guy and I’ll miss him a lot,” she said.

Granted, Philadelphia isn’t on track to be anywhere near as bad as Baltimore based on their population. They have roughly the same number of murders with a population approximately three times as large as Charm City. But that’s still a lot of killing and much of it is concentrated in neighborhoods such as the one where they deli owners are doing business.

So, with all that in mind, why would you go out of your way to force them to remove their plexiglass barricades? If you’re going to shut them down, that’s one thing. But allowing them to stay open but with reduced protection from violence simply doesn’t add up in terms of normal municipal policy.