Shooting Down The Plan To ‘Shooting Galleries’

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About this time two weeks ago, I found out that a safe injection site would be opening up seven blocks from my office in South Philadelphia.

I found out the way that everyone else did, through word of mouth. Actually, it was “word of social media.” While I knew that Judge Gerald McHugh had issued a ruling that the whole idea of “Safe Injection Sites” did not violate federal law, I assumed that we wouldn’t be dealing with the reality of an operating facility for months, if ever.

Imagine then my surprise at learning that Safehouse had entered into a lease with a landlord in the old St. Agnes Burn Center building, and was prepared to open up the following Monday. Surprise might not be the right word. Fury is a bit closer to what I, and many of my South Philadelphia neighbors, were feeling.

That fury was personified by a righteous South Philadelphia mother who spoke up at a press conference that Safehouse had scheduled to announce the opening of its first facility. The film of her statements at that press conference went viral, and represent the frustration, hurt feelings, fear and justifiable anger triggered by the absolute lack of respect shown to a community of families, business owners and school children.

The issue of safe injection sites is a controversial one, to say the least. Some have tried to make it more palatable to the general public by reframing the issue as “harm reduction efforts,” while those of us who think federal law was misread by Judge McHugh prefer to look at the sites as glorified shooting galleries. The truth is likely somewhere in between those extremes, but the fact is that there is little evidence to establish that the existence of these sites in Canada has had an appreciable impact on the substance abuse epidemic.

But there is something more important at play here. People of goodwill can disagree on how to confront a public health crisis. Look at what’s happening with the Coronavirus epidemic, with a multitude of voices giving conflicting opinions on how to act, what to wear, where to go, etc.

But what people of goodwill cannot disagree on is the level of reciprocal respect we need to show in attempting to arrive at solutions. We cannot simply say that our way is the best way and try and shove it down the throats of those who have legitimate concerns, and reasons to disagree.

That is exactly what happened in the Safehouse debacle, and that is why there will be no safe injection site cropping up at St. Agnes, a sacred place where my mother was treated after almost dying of third-degree burns suffered in a house fire in 1980. It is why there will be no safe injection site housed in a complex that also includes a daycare and Pre-K. It is why there will be no safe injection site housed in a building that is located two and a half blocks from Southern High School, retail businesses, diners, banks, and other indicia of a thriving (albeit somewhat depressed) community.

Had the directors of Safehouse been smarter, they would not have tried to ambush a community like this one and then try and clean things up with some apologetic “public meetings.” They would not have ignored city councilmen who have a direct connection to the people in the affected communities. They would not have been as arrogant as to suggest that they were going to go ahead with their plans to open the site even while appeals were wending their way through the courts.

And they would not have been as ham-handed as to implicitly accuse the good people of South Philadelphia of lacking compassion for people who suffer from substance abuse. That last part makes me see red.

A close family member died of an overdose. I know what it feels like to visit the grave of someone who should be standing beside me, healthy and hopeful and filled with life. Don’t dare talk to me about compassion.

But talk to me, and to my neighbors, the next time you decide to pull a fast one in the name of saving lives.

And that goes for any site, any community, that will be destroyed by a glorified shooting gallery opening up in its midst. Today South Philly. Tomorrow, our beautiful slice of Delco Paradise.

Compassion matters, of course. But not just for the substance abusers.

Copyright 2020 Christine Flowers. Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].

Christine Flowers is a Philadelphian who loves the Eagles but can leave the cheesesteaks. She writes about anything that will likely annoy the majority of people, and in her spare time practices immigration law (which is bound to annoy at least some people.)