Gangs are not the way to solve city’s drug problem

In this opinion piece Diocesan Media Liaison officer FR MICHAEL CANNY hits at out at what he describes as “self appointed judges, juries and executioners” who have tasked themselves with tackling anti-social behaviour and drug dealing on our streets. He urges people to work with the PSNI.

Over the past few days and indeed months much has been reported on young people being asked to leave the city under the threat of execution.

This is not a new phenomenon.

During the so-called Troubles paramilitaries used the same tactics of intimidation and threat in what they said was an attempt to rid their communities of anti-social behaviour. Excluding people from their communities, and in many cases from their country, didn’t solve our problems then and neither will it solve them now.

All right-thinking people must condemn those who threaten to execute our young people and intimidate their families. We’re living in a democracy; the rule of law must be upheld at all times. Self-appointed judges, juries and executioners have no place in any civilised society. All who are believed to have broken the law must be given a fair trial in a recognised court of law.

Whatever the realities, known and unknown, behind the most recent threats, a number of hard facts must be faced by all of us.

1. The growing problem of illegal drug use and those who supply them;

2. The reluctance of people to stand up in court and give evidence that will lead dealers to be convicted by the courts;

3. The existence of self-anointed groups who cause mayhem and destruction in the name of a warped sense of justice.

The proverbial ‘dogs in the street’ indicate that many people across all sections of our community use illegal drugs regularly. It is at best naïve to believe that even minimal use of illegal drugs does not encourage, promote and make a contribution to drug dealers and the subsequent mayhem in our communities.

I believe that anyone involved in taking drugs, whether at ‘respectable parties’, on the street corner, in pubs or clubs, shares the responsibility for the threats to people who are alleged to be drug dealers. If no one used illegal drugs the so-called dealers would very quickly be out of business.

Actions and behaviour can have unintended consequences.

Work with PSNI

For many years, indeed decades, a significant number of people in our communities felt alienated and un-represented by the official mechanisms of law enforcement. Through much work and effort those days are behind us. To ensure that we live in a better society it is vital that all work more closely with and support the PSNI in their fight against all crime.

The PSNI also have a responsibility to respond and quickly investigate information they receive. Inaction, or indeed perceived inaction, by the PSNI creates a vacuum and distrust.

In the past, passing on information to the police was at best seen as being disloyal to the community. At present, I believe, it reveals a real commitment to the common good and welfare of all, especially the young.

If the proverbial ‘dogs in the street’ know about the use and sale of illegal drugs, people will have to rid themselves of any ambivalence they might have toward drug use and the consequences for our communities. This will by necessity involve members of our community who have vital information giving evidence to the PSNI and in the courts.

Such actions will take courage but unless we can break out of past attitudes and unite in this way we will positively choose to be ruled by fear and the lives of many, especially the young will be under constant threat.

These self-appointed groups who claim to be acting in the best interest of the community must stop issuing threats and, like the rest of us, cooperate and work with the PSNI.

I invite these groups to reflect for a moment and ask themselves if their threats have resulted in less illegal drugs being sold and used in our city.

The answer is clear: the attempt to put so-called dealers out of town has no impact on drug use. As long as people need and use drugs, suppliers will be making them available.

Despite as many as 38 people being under threat in recent months, the amount of drugs available and consumed has not reduced and will not reduce while people feel a need to use them.

All of us have a role to play.

Sometimes by our actions or inaction we can provide fertile soil for self-appointed groups to grow and indeed flourish.

When criminal or antisocial behaviour takes place, all should report the incidents to the police as opposed to going to someone, who goes to someone else, with a view to exacting justice.

It may in the short term appear to solve a problem when in reality it is creating a much bigger and more complex problem. Exporting those involved cannot solve anti-social behaviour of any kind, the sale of illegal drugs being one such example.

Solutions are complex and linked up thinking is required.

It is only when statutory organisations and communities come together in seeking solutions that progress can begin.