Tuesday June 4, 2013

The crimes associated with the illegal drug trade in Brattleboro are a problem, just as they are in Bellows Falls, in Hinsdale, N.H., and every big and little town, not only in the Reformer’s coverage area, but all over the country.

Locally, we’ve experienced crimes petty and horrific, from burglary to support a habit to murder over stolen drugs.

Most recently, two Brattleboro women were forced into a car in broad daylight on Western Avenue because they knew someone who owed someone else $400 for heroin. According to a police investigation, the women were abducted as a means to try to recover that cash. The suspect reportedly threatened to kill the victims if they didn’t help him find the man who owed him the money.

Twenty-four hours later, four suspects were arraigned in court; three of them are from out of state (while we can point the finger of blame at outsiders bringing drugs to our communities, it is our family members, friends and neighbors who are consuming them).

The man who appears to have instigated the abduction was described by one of the victims as "a known drug dealer in Brattleboro (who is) violent and threatens people regularly." She also said that drug users and drug dealers associated with him are afraid of him. Hearing the news of crimes such as this also instills fear in people who have nothing to do with illegal drugs.

Brattleboro Police Chief Eugene Wrinn said the kidnapping of the two women is one of many drug-related crimes that have him worried about Brattleboro.

"I am concerned about the increase in drug activity and the drug trade and the crimes associated with it," Wrinn said.

While we are also concerned about the drug trade in Brattleboro and in other towns, we believe there is no reason to be afraid, or to think things are going downhill rapidly. Substance abuse is nothing new and is not exclusive to the big cities, as anyone who has spent their life in small-town America can attest to.

But we do realize we have a problem and it needs to be dealt with on more than just a law enforcement level; we can’t just imprison our way out of the situation.

The United States’ burgeoning prison population is overburdened by people who are involved in drugs in one way or another, whether it’s dealing them or using them or, as in many cases, both. It’s also true that many of the people who are in jail for drugs are there because the drugs are illegal and haven’t done anything wrong other than possess and use them.

If prison was the solution, you would think the problem would have been solved by now.

And it’s not just about illegal drugs and the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs -- alcohol, which impairs judgment, also contributes to many crimes in our communities, whether it’s driving under the influence, assault or just plain disorderly conduct.

Meeting the problem head on means addressing the issue in a holistic manner, including the way our courts operate, how people are punished, whether some drugs should be legalized, what kinds of treatment are available and how we deal with underlying mental health issues.

It is an overwhelming task, but we shouldn’t fear to walk our streets at night. Giving in to fear serves no purpose other than to wave a white flag, giving full rein to the real predators in our midst.

We don’t need to take back our streets because they are already ours. What we need is a real solution to addiction and reliable justice for violent crimes. We also need to have a serious debate about the legalization of drugs so that we can focus our attention on the cure and not the punishment.