In a loud voice, the head of an association representing beer deli owners in Philadelphia told a crowd Friday at an emergency meeting and news conference – with City Councilman At-Large David Oh and State Rep. Todd Stephens in support – that business owners should not arm themselves with guns, but should refuse to take down their bullet-resistant safety partitions if ordered to do so by city officials.
"Do not use guns. This is not the solution," said Adam Xu, chairman of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association. "If this bill passes, nobody should remove their bulletproof glass. … We will tell the entire city government and all citizens of Philadelphia: 'We love the community like everybody else. We do not want gun violence.'"
Xu was speaking before a crowd of about 200 beer deli owners and their supporters in response to a City Council bill –expected to be voted on Thursday – that could force them to eventually remove the thick-plastic partitions that separate the owners, many of whom operate in high-crime areas, from the public.
Stephens, a Republican who represents part of Montgomery County, said that next week, he plans to propose new state legislation to protect employees. "Everyone in Pennsylvania, whether you live in Erie, whether you live in Lancaster, whether you live in Lansdale or in Philadelphia, must be able to protect themselves against violence," he said.
"As a state, we must do everything in our power to ensure that no local government can use innocent employees as human shields in a political battle, and we're not going to stand for that," Stephens said to applause at the Saigon Maxim restaurant on Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia. "If Philadelphia City Council has problems with certain businesses within the city, they ought to take it up with those certain businesses," he said.
On Monday, City Council's Committee on Public Health and Human Services unanimously passed an amended version of a bill introduced by City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, which in part calls for the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections to come up with rules no later than Jan. 1, 2021, on "the use or removal of any physical barrier" between food servers and customers in a food establishment with 30 or more seats.
Bass has worked to curb neighborhood nuisances and has said that stop-and-go stores, where people can buy single cans of beer from early morning until late at night, foster drug activity and drunkenness. She has also said that some of them don't serve food as required.
She has called the bullet-resistant windows an "indignity," saying it felt as if the store owners were serving food to customers considered dangerous or in "prison." Beer deli owners and their advocates have said that without the windows, their lives would be at risk.
Because beer delis need to have a "restaurant" or "eating place" license from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to sell malt liquor or beer, and state law requires such places to have seating for at least 30 people, such businesses would have to apply for a city "large establishment license" under Bass' bill if they want to continue selling beer.
Potential restrictions on barrier windows would not apply to small establishments, such as takeouts or coffee shops that don't sell alcohol.
Oh, who opposes the bill, urged those present at Friday's meeting to contact the other Council members and Mayor Kenney to urge them to oppose it. "The bottom line is the safety glass is not hurting anybody," he said. "It prevents bullets, knives and criminals. It is not there to insult the community."
In addition to Bass, the other public-health committee members – Council members Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Helen Gym, William Greenlee, Derek Green, Al Taubenberger and Blondell Reynolds Brown – voted Monday to move the bill forward.
City Councilman Mark Squilla indicated after Friday's meeting that he plans to vote against Bass' bill.
L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss on Friday said if the bill passes, the agency would work with food establishments to see who would need to have a large versus small establishment license. The agency would then discuss the window issue with those who have a stake in it and develop rules, she said.
Mayor Kenney's office, in a statement Tuesday, appeared to support Bass' bill, saying it "would allow for stronger enforcement by the state of its liquor laws, creating safer neighborhoods for our children and families." It also mentioned that "a diverse group of stakeholders" would be convened to come up with regulations.
Since Bass introduced her bill Nov. 2, beer deli owners, who on a regular basis face racial insults and threats from customers in some neighborhoods, have received further threats, Xu has said.
As one example, Pauline Lim, 47, who with her husband Alex, 54, own the Sunrise Deli on Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia, said in an interview that on Sunday, a man yelled to her from the other side of her bullet-resistant window, saying: "You're lucky. Wait until this glass comes down."
"He said he's going to beat the crap out of us," Lim said. "He said, 'I can't wait until the bulletproof come down. You have no s—- to say then.'"
The man was angry after he tried to buy a $1.50 beer, but didn't have enough money, Lim said. "That day he just cursed at us and banged on our glass and said, 'You're lucky this s— is up,'" she recalled.
Lim, a U.S. citizen who is ethnically Chinese and whose family came as refugees to the U.S. from Cambodia, said if the bill passes, she will arm herself and relatives who work at her store with guns, and that her husband will renew his gun permit.
"We don't want that," she said. "It's going to be a war. We have to protect ourselves."
"Are you going to wait for him to shoot you first?" she asked. "We have no choice but to train ourselves [on how to use a gun] and protect ourselves and our family," she said. "Everyone's life matters. That's why we're pleading with Cindy Bass not to go through with this at all."
Another beer deli owner shared a video of an incident that occurred in February. In it, a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt is seen on the other side of the bullet-resistant window yelling insults at the store owner, who did not want his name or the video released publicly out of concern for his safety. "This f—— glass. … That's disrespectful. … I will beat your Chinese ass!" the man is heard saying.