Philadelphia Mayor Charelle Parker will increase drug enforcement in Kensington, the city’s notorious drug hub, this month — a dramatic departure from the “harm reduction” ethos of local non-profits.

Parker took office in January, vowing to start dismantling open-air drug markets within her first 100 days as mayor. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel expanded on that promise in February, previewing a law enforcement plan to arrest people for drug offenses instead of letting them off with warnings.

“Things that [people] have previously been able to do on the streets — openly using drugs, defecating on properties, threatening, stealing, those things that have historically not been addressed — will be addressed,” he told the Daily Mail.

The plan is expected to roll out this month, starting by informing residents that open drug use and other illegal behaviors will soon result in arrest.

Though Parker’s law enforcement push purports to relieve beleaguered citizens struggling with the practical consequences of rampant drug use, Philadelphia’s harm reduction non-profits are pushing back.

Harm reduction advocates believe governments should alleviate the harms of doing drugs, like overdosing or catching diseases from dirty needles. True believers typically reject all other solutions to drug abuse, including incarceration or even treatment.

Philadelphia harm reduction coalitions, including the Philly Coalition for Dignity in Treatment, the Community Action Relief Project (CARP) and the SOL Collective, object to:

  • Parker’s plan to increase police funding and presence on the street.
  • Parker’s proposed budget decrease for clean needle exchange programs (which receive millions of dollars in federal funding).
  • City Council’s Kensington Caucus, a collection of four councilmembers advocating for a “triage program” that would give people arrested for drug offences a choice between entering treatment or going to jail.

Most revealingly, the organizations slammed Parker and Philly law enforcement in February for a successful drug raid in Kensington.

“Late yesterday morning, we received reports of a large, militarized police presence in Kensington that resulted in the presumed arrest of dozens of unhoused people and people who use drugs,” CARP wrote on Instagram, calling the raid a “blatantly inhumane escalation of police violence against drug users, who already face high levels of criminalization and violence at the hand of the state.”

(Could drug users’ criminalization have anything to do with drugs being … illegal? I digress.)

(And … is it unnecessarily violent for police to enforce laws? I digress again.)

The post continues:

“Mandatory and coerced treatment for substance use is a racist, ineffective, dangerous response to a public health crisis that requires real solutions, not forcible disappearance.”

CARP neglects to mention that the raid — which was conducted by Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigations, not the Philadelphia Police Department or Mayor’s Office — resulted in the arrest of six alleged drug traffickers and the seizure of 5,015 grams of fentanyl, 93 grams of crack cocaine, 81 grams of marijuana, 33 grams of meth and two firearms.

CARP’s rhetoric exposes the fundamental sticking point between harm reduction idealogues and their government counterparts — the former don’t care if addicts get clean.

Harm reduction programs can be effective at saving drug addicts from the fatal consequences of drug use — but only if the overarching goal is weaning them off drugs.

Harm reduction ethos, on the other hand, contends that governments should enable people to safely do what they want with their bodies, which, in practice, would make drugs functionally legal.

“There is this antiquated idea that individuals must be made incredibly uncomfortable and hit ‘rock bottom’ in order to seek out treatment. But that’s not what harm reduction is here to do.” Sarah Laurel, founder of the Philly non-profit Savage Sisters, sums up for The Free Press. “We’re not there to coerce people to get into recovery or get sober — we’re there to mitigate harm.”

But drug addiction itself is horribly harmful — for the addicts, for their families and friends, and for the communities caring for them.

It’s why, in the absence of drug enforcement, Kensington and Harrowgate residents report sweeping used needles, cigarettes, food scraps and even baggies of drugs off their stoops every morning.

It’s why taxpayer money spent to provide addicts with clean needles ends up in the hands of people like Bud, Kensington’s resident “hitter.” People pay Bud to shoot them up with clean needles, Olivia Reingold reports for the Free Press — his steady hands ensure the drugs eek through collapsed veins.

It’s why mothers and school teachers worry for the health and safety of their kids, many of whom walk past people high on xylazine — an animal tranquilizer that heightens the effects of drugs like fentanyl and leaves users with horrifying soft tissue infections.

And its why legislators like councilwoman Quetcy Lozada, one of Kensington’s representatives and founding member of the Kensington Caucus, are determined to see drug laws enforced — regardless of the backlash.

“The next few years will be difficult and the optics of it will be more difficult,” Lozada confessed to Philadelphians gathered in the City Council chambers. “But we should ask ourselves, ‘should our children see those images every day or is it better for them to see an increase of police presence?’”

She continues:

We have a responsibility as a city to ensure that our children — particularly those who we have failed over the course of the last few years — live and are given a better quality of life. What we can’t do is allow them to continue to live in the conditions that they are living in.

Like Lozada, the Daily Citizen believes unimpeded drug use harms children, families, and communities. Please keep Philadelphia in your prayers as legislators attempt to roll back the dangerous precedent set by extreme harm reduction policies.

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Governments Can’t Cure Homelessness—Christians are the Solution (Part 2)

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