Tip of the cap to D.A. Eric Linhardt, the Lycoming County Drug Task Force and to all local law-enforcement. They continue their day-to-day battle against the heroin epidemic and continue to take bad guys off the street. I am thankful and amazed by the amount of drugs and weapons Chief Foresman’s force has taken just off the streets of Williamsport.
Please understand as a citizen of our area just how grave this problem is and it will take more than just the folks in blue to change this problem. As they remove one dealer from the street another just replaces him. Supply and demand at a truly evil level.
Coroner Charles Kiessling has seen more deaths from heroin overdoses than from any other drug in Lycoming County history. More people have overdosed on heroin than have lost their lives on our area highways. The number continues to climb at an alarming rate. Only a single digit percentage ever beat a heroin addiction, it is a death sentence.
As in any free market economy, legal or illegal, when a product is in high demand competition is fierce. That is an understatement when the product is heroin. The dealers of heroin often have a gang affiliation and if they don't, one usually finds them. It may be for distribution, it may be for supply, it may be for a cut of business. It might just be that criminal activity just always seems to go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately in Williamsport that is what has happened.
Gang activity and “turf wars” over distribution and boundary lines are the latest problems facing our community. Many of the recent shootings are a result of battles over “heroin turf,” which gang is going to control it and which gang is not welcome in that part of town. The other big problem, as if turf wars weren’t enough, is the young people that are being drawn in. Easy money, the idea of the power and excitement associated with the “thug life” and the lack of a home life make certain teenagers and those in their earlier 20s, easy prey for gangs looking for members.
The gang sadly becomes like family to fill a void missing in many of their lives. These young gangbangers often are the triggerman in a drive-by or shootings that results in a homicide. The younger gang members are used in this manner to protect older gang members and their turf. They are overzealous to prove their allegiance and sometimes fear the conscience if they don't carry out their orders, and rightfully so.
Obviously if you live in a neighborhood known for drug trafficking you are at a higher risk to related violence. The law-abiding citizen is not the target of recent gang shootings; the target is the rival gang. Unfortunately getting caught at the wrong place at the right time so often happens. A young person gets caught by a stray bullet or an elderly member of the neighborhood gets hit while in their home, we have all heard about it on the evening news. Thankfully this has not happened locally.
Remember to pay attention to your surroundings and no matter where you live if something doesn't seem right, trust your instincts.
As far as break-ins and burglaries, usually it is an inside job. Not the criminal element associated with selling and distributing heroin. The heroin user quickly becomes addicted and needs to fund this habit. They will lie, cheat and steal to do so. The collateral damage is often family, friends and neighbors.
In the majority of theft and burglary cases the perpetrator is a family member or friend of a family member. If you have a member of your family with an addiction problem, do not kid yourself. They have an illness and they will steal from you no matter if it is your son or granddaughter. Protect yourself and your property, get them to rehab or turn them into the police. Do not ignore or enable the problem. They will destroy themselves and affect all that are around them.
Never give up on a person, but understand the only thing that may save their life from overdose is a jail cell.
As for our young gangbangers and their turf wars, the problem is nationwide. The biggest difference in today's world is it's not New York and Philly it's Williamsport and the Hazleton area. Gangs have been around here for a long time, the gang violence and turf wars, fueled by heroin, have not. So it comes back to addressing the social and economical issues of heroin.
How do we deal with this? The same way law-enforcement from the state police level on down is battling the problem. One day at a time, one case at a time, one arrest at a time. The question Mr. Webb would always ask me after he gave me a big project to work on, "Son, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." This applies to today's war on heroin.
As concerned citizens we need to understand the problem, report or address the problem in the appropriate manner and make sure we educate our youth about the problem. Through vigilance and education we can help to change tomorrow and not allow gangs and heroin to take our peace and change our communities.
May God bless and protect all our law-enforcement folks and help those and their families struggling with an addiction problem.