Bulletproof glass better than bullets

The owners of Bu Bu Deli, Lisa, Hieng, and Mike Taing.

The owners of Bu Bu Deli (22nd Street and Allegheny Avenue) Lisa, Hieng, and Mike Taing. (Adam Xu)

Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass has been rallying support for her legislation, Bill 170963, which is blatantly part of her political agenda of cracking down on all stop-and-go businesses. She tells her constituents that “this type of business model is history.”

If it passes, small establishments (with seating for 30 or fewer customers) would be banned from selling alcohol. Larger establishments, which can serve more than 30 seated customers, must remove bulletproof barriers separating staff and customers.

The only part of the legislation I oppose is the bulletproof-glass provision.

Bass and her supporters say that stop-and-gos are preying on black and brown people in the neighborhoods they are serving; selling crack pipes; and encouraging reckless behavior. But there is a law on the books that says  businesses that violate their license can be shut down. There is no need to use the presence of bulletproof glass to say “This is a good business” or “This is not a good business.” That language has nothing to do to with forcing the business owner to comply with the law.

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The need for barriers has nothing to do with a business’s status as a restaurant. How do you decide that 28 seats, 29 seats, is not a restaurant? This has nothing to do with the number of seats. It’s for everybody.

If businesses remove the barriers, will that address public safety? Will that address the crack pipes? Will that address all the loitering in the neighborhood?

This question on the use or removal of bulletproof glass has been deferred to the Department of Licenses and Inspection to decide by Jan. 1, 2021. But this is still a gray area. L&I could decide anytime before then. It could decide tomorrow.  

This bill still leaves the possibility wide open for bulletproof glass to be forcibly removed from our businesses. It is shocking that such legislation has even been introduced in America, a country built on fundamental doctrines of equal protection and equal rights under the law

This bill not only invites crimes and increases the likelihood of more bloody violence in our city, but it also places targets on each of our businesses. This bill would have the effect of making small business owners more vulnerable to robberies — or worse. We could be driven out of business at gunpoint! This bill forces a choice between living or making a living.

Many customers of beer deli stores pay with cash. Many store owners and their families live inside their stores. Removing bulletproof glass will make them defenseless to protect their employees, families, and business revenues and inventory. We should have the ability, just like any other private business owner and household, to determine what is safe for us. If our customers and the public disagree, they can simply choose not to patronize  our business — yet they have supported many of our businesses for decades.

Recently, Bass stated in a radio interview that beer deli store owners can use guns to protect themselves instead of using bulletproof glass. Yes, guns are the councilwoman’s answer for maintaining safety in our stores and in our communities. We don’t want to carry guns! The answer to reducing gun violence in our communities is not to force business owners to carry guns.

Defenders of the bill are saying that this is an issue of store owners being intolerant and fearful of their customers, that our passive self-defense is offensive to them. The Asian community — Asian-Americans — are very tolerant.

Many of us have owned and lived at our stores for decades. We are not businesses that recently popped up in our communities. We have endured many hardships and dangers. We have been threatened, spat at, and assaulted. Some of us have been victims of gunpoint and knifepoint robberies. Some of our family members have been shot and killed inside our businesses. And yet, we continue to survive, raise our children, and pay taxes just like any other small business.

We live and work in the same communities where KFC and Domino’s Pizza restaurants, gas station-convenience stores, post offices, movie theaters, banks, and even police stations use bulletproof glass for safety. Are they afraid of their neighbors, too? There is a shopping strip near Temple University on the 2600 block of North Broad, where many businesses use bulletproof glass. This is a relatively safe area. All federal government agencies have bulletproof glass. Even a kid knows that this is a sign of safety and self-defense.

Bulletproof glass is the best answer. It does not harm anyone, but guns do!

We care and love our city as much as any Philadelphian, and our city has had enough gun violence. Our neighbors have suffered enough bloody crimes. Therefore, we must preserve the bulletproof glass in our businesses. More guns are not the answer.

This bill will be up for a final vote in City Council Thursday at 10 a.m. in City Hall Room 400. The peace of our city is on the line with the outcome of this bill.

Adam Xu is chairman of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association, which represents 230 beer deli stores across the city of Philadelphia.

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