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'Hot spot' ills go beyond drugs, group says

March 16, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

'Hot spot' ills go beyond drugs, group says

Getting drug dealers and users out of Hagerstown's so-called hot spot areas, although applaudable, isn't going to cure other problems facing those who live in the area, residents said Monday night.

Unemployment - especially among young black males - racism, poor education, lack of family values and other social problems plague the area and feed the drug business, said residents who attended a Community Outreach Mission Empowerment meeting at Bethel Gardens Community Center.

About 20 people showed up for the meeting, co-sponsored by Asbury United Methodist Church and Bethel Gardens Apartments, to discuss issues pertaining to the area and to evaluate the progress that has been made since last year's meeting with a panel made up of police and city officials.

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"The biggest problem I run into is racism. It's very open and in some cases it's very subtle," said Lawrence Freeman, of Hagerstown.

Freeman blamed racism in part for the high unemployment rate in the community and warned city and police officials at the meeting that it could be a tough summer in the neighborhoods unless young people get jobs.

"The biggest problem is lack of hiring, not lack of jobs," he said.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said it's "high time" elected officials meet with local companies and businesses about job placement, but said that would be more effective if the community and the city made it a collective effort.

It doesn't help that young people are exposed to drug dealers who have no education and no jobs but who have a lot of money, drive new cars, and wear new clothes and a lot of gold, said Alexander Green, who moved to Hagerstown six months ago from Charlotte, N.C., and has been unemployed for three months.

"Jonathan Street was once a pleasure to walk up and down. Now it's a disaster, it's terrible. There's no respect whatsoever," said Martha Cheeves, 71, who grew up in Hagerstown.

Others complained children who should be in school are running the streets during the day.

Residents praised Hagerstown City Police for an increased presence in the area, but some said they fear the court system and jail aren't tough enough.

"I think the police force should demand respect. Make them respect you and the court system. Make them think twice about doing drugs in Hagerstown," said Mark Stoner, of Hagerstown.

Residents spoke of the neighborhood problems, and sought advice on how the community can help after police told them police can't do it alone.

"It's critical the community is involved, even more so now," said Sgt. Margaret Kline.

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