Thursday, October 11, 2007


What do you do when you've had enough?

One man in Torrington, Connecticut (see article below) took his protest about drug dealers taking over his neighborhood to city hall and everyone there said the problem had already been fixed.

Is the guy crazy?

Who would you believe?

And what would you do if you couldn't walk down your block without being confronted by the neighborhood dealer

(Note: keep reading to the end, that's where you'll find the best overall idea for dealing with this problem and what the symbol accompanying this article is all about)

Call the police. Yeah, right. What are they gonna do? Busting some users and toss them in the clink is usually what they think of as dealing with the problem.

Sam Draper's method of ridding his neighborhood in Elmira, New York of drug dealers is a simple one...if you've got the guts to try it.

He takes photographs of drug users and drug sellers -- their faces, cars and license plates.

"I couldn't stand by and do nothing," says Draper, who has lived on the Westside for 17 years. "The drug dealers were destroying my neighborhood. I have too much invested in my home."
It seemed to work his block.

Seems like a good way to get shot to me, but whatever.

How about block clubs. They've worked in some places.

The Chicago Report writes the 900 block of North Ridgeway Avenue is quiet, with little traffic. A welcome sign tells visitors that drugs, loud music, alcohol drinking and repairing cars are not allowed. Yard lights illuminate the street, and there are permit parking signs every few steps. The street corners are vacant.

Eight years ago, however, things were different, residents say. There were dice games being played in the middle of the block, and the street was congested with traffic as people double-parked their cars to buy drugs.

“We just got tired of it. You couldn’t even go outside your door,” said Willie Harvey, 70, president of the block club for the 900 block of North Ridgeway. “We were like, ‘We have to do something.’”

The change was not immediate. In 1995, when drug dealers often stood in front of their homes, Almeta Levy, 70, and about five other women started the block club.

When the women asked the dealers to leave, they just moved to the street corner and continued to sell drugs, Levy said. Once Harvey and a few other men joined the block club, they approached the dealers again.

They didn’t demand that the dealers stop selling drugs, Harvey said. He told them residents didn’t want “that sort of thing” happening on their block. And some of the dealers left, he said. “Some of them I could talk to like I talk to my kids and some of them I couldn’t.”

To discourage the dealers who remained, about eight residents began to do “positive loitering.” Every Saturday, for seven weeks in a row, they walked their block—sweeping the sidewalks and standing on the corners where drugs were sold. Levy said the drug dealers eventually stopped coming.

Block club members notified other residents of the changes they were making and posted their block club sign at one end of the block. Some residents installed wrought iron fencing around their property to keep dealers from running through their yards to get to the alleys.

They also posted a “We Call Police” sign in a window of an unoccupied building where, Harvey said, crowds would gather to sell drugs and hold dice games.

Block club members exchanged phone numbers and formed a phone tree. When someone spotted a drug dealer, every block club member would get a call about it.

The block club also collected signatures from at least two-thirds of the block’s residents to get permit parking, which stopped visitors from double-parking their cars, Harvey said.

Harvey’s block partnered with the 800 and 1000 blocks of North Ridgeway for meetings, parties and clean-ups.

For the last five years Harvey’s block has not had a problem with drug dealers, but he says that drugs are still being sold in the alley of a neighboring block.

I would note though even on Harvey’s block, residents were reluctant to call the police on drug dealers with good reason.

“Sometimes calling the police doesn’t help because the police will come right to the house where the call came from and ask ‘Where did you say they were selling drugs?’” Levy said.

That's real helpful.

More than ten years ago a neighborhood in a town in Virginia started a patrol. The Park Place Citizens Patrol was a partnership of neighborhood residents, police, the civic league, the Park Place Community Development Corp. and the Norfolk Masjid, a local Muslim center, which provides 10 volunteers. The patrols included walking, driving cars or bicycling to make more-visible impressions on criminals and law-abiding neighbors alike.

The only problem with this idea is who is in charge. I wouldn't want local Minutemen, for example, patrolling my neighborhood.

Whatever methods communities take, its my opinion they should include what follows.

That would be the harm reduction model. It has worked in places around the world but it's hard to imagine in the USA. It includes things like setting up safe injection sites, red light districts and the like. Imagine making drugs legal and controlled. You simply wipe out the need for dealers and you keep users alive and offer them help if they want it and a way to do what they do without creating a crime problem - and without making users criminals - if they don't.

"You just can't incarcerate your way out of this," former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, a member of the Beyond Prohibition Coalition, said Friday. "The United States locks down 2.3 million people every night." The former mayor was speaking out against the Conservative government plan to copy the failed US War on drugs.

The Vancouver plan posits that harm reduction involves establishing a hierarchy of achievable goals, which when taken step by step, can lead to a healthier life for drug users and a healthier community for everyone. It accepts that abstinence may not be a realistic goal for some drug users, particularly in the short term. Harm reduction involves an achievable, pragmatic approach to drug issues.

Harm reduction interventions have proven successful in decreasing the open drug scene, the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, overdoses and overdose deaths in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Australia.

In Vancouver, harm reduction programs include the supervised injection site (SIS), needle exchanges and low-threshold community health services. Vancouver now has expanded 24-hour-a-day access to needles - through low-threshold, peer-based needle exchange, to mobile needle exchanges and needle exchange attached to primary health care services.

Insite, the safer injection facility in Vancouver, is similar to programs already in operation throughout Europe and in Australia, but met a great deal of opposition in Canada when it sought to open its doors more than three years ago. With support from Vancouver's past mayors, the facility opened and has since been incredibly successful.

Last July current Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and the Vancouver City Council voted to support two public health-oriented drug policy measures. One would extend the operation of the city's safer injection site, the first in North America, for three and a half years. The other would create a research trial to transition people struggling with addiction from using illegal street drugs to using legal prescription drugs.

Is there a politician in your community with the guts to propose such a plan?

Not in my town.

The following is from the Register Citizen (Torrington, CT.)

City man protests neighborhood drug dealers

TORRINGTON - A city man protested in front of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, denouncing city leaders for what he considers to be their failure to combat illicit drug use and other crimes in his neighborhood.

Robert Phelps, of 322 South Main St., held a sign that read "Mayor lets drug dealers sell in Torr." while shouting similar sentiments to passing motorists and pedestrians.

"The mayor told me that the drug dealers would be gone from the neighborhood by Oct. 1. They are not gone," Phelps said. "There are at least three drug houses operating on South Main Street that sell drugs for 24 hours a day."

Police chief Robert Milano rejected Phelps' claims. On the contrary, Milano said that the police department has increased its presence in the South Main Street neighborhood in question. Officers have made 13 arrests at one particular residence on South Main Street since Oct. 21, 2006, he said.

"We've done a tremendous amount of work down there and have made several arrests," Milano said. "Since this gentleman has been complaining, we've made 13 arrests for drugs, disorderly conduct, and violation of probation. We have a very aggressive drug-enforcement program in charge of patrolling the neighborhood."

"I've got 40 square miles to patrol. It is not financially feasible to the taxpayer to have a police officer on every street corner," Milano said.

Mayor Ryan Bingham also rejected Phelps' claims.

"We've done something about [illicit drug use] in his neighborhood," Bingham said. "And we are continuing to patrol the neighborhood."

One matter upon which Phelps, Milano and Bingham did agree was that they met on two occasions this past summer to discuss the police department's responses to people who sell and buy drugs along South Main Street and in Coe Memorial Park.

On Wednesday, Milano and Bingham repeatedly stressed that Phelps has the constitutional right to engage in an act of peaceful public protest.

Standing in front of City Hall, Phelps said he would not allow his neighborhood to be controlled by drug dealers.

"I've been putting up with the dealers for a year now. I am not going to move out of my neighborhood just because of some scuzzy drug dealers. I am not afraid of them," Phelps said."The city officials are afraid of the dealers, however."

Around 5:45 p.m., a police cruiser parked on the south side of City Hall, about 100 feet from where Phelps was conducting his protest. Upon seeing the police car, Phelps remarked that he was going to be arrested. Asked why he feared being arrested, Phelps did not respond.

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