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Local black leader asks city for aid

September 18, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The president of the Washington County NAACP on Tuesday asked the Hagerstown City Council to help that organization plan a summit to address city problems, including drugs and prostitution.

"Hagerstown, we have a problem," said the Rev. James Irvin. "When we have teenagers hanging in our street into the early hours of the morning buying and selling drugs and soliciting prostitution, we have a problem."

Council members and Mayor William Breichner said they would support a summit, which also would include representatives of churches and organizations that offer services to the community.

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Irvin in July told a crowd that local government was ignoring the black community.

While Irvin's prior comments sparked criticism by council members, Irvin said he did not ask to speak at Tuesday's council meeting to be combative.

"I am not here to fight .... I am here to talk," Irvin said. "We come here today not to confront you but to ask that we work together as citizens of Hagerstown.

"No matter what our differences, we can agree to fight together for justice and equality in America," he said.

More needs to be done to address community problems, Irvin said.

When people come to Hagerstown from other states to buy drugs, Hagerstown has a problem, he said.

"When our neighborhoods feel they are being harassed and disrespected by our police department, we have a problem," he said.

After the presentation, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith spoke briefly with Irvin.

Smith said he had asked previously for a meeting between police representatives and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to discuss those issues and he received no response. Irvin told him he will call within the next few weeks, Smith said.

Smith said the majority of police officers are well-behaved.

"The police department is an easy target," Smith said.

Councilman Lewis Metzner said Irvin's request for finding ways to decrease drug use and sales in Hagerstown may be a "double-edged sword." A greater police presence in the Jonathan Street area might result in more complaints of harassment, Metzner said.

Irvin, at a July 20 NAACP Family Celebration at Wheaton Park, said "For too long this community has been ignored by elected officials." The invited speaker, Del. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's, made similar remarks to the crowd.

At the July 23 council meeting, Councilmen N. Linn Hendershot and Kristin Aleshire said they objected to and disagreed with the July 20 remarks.

Aleshire told Irvin Tuesday he was offended by his July 20 remarks.

"I will apologize for offending you," Irvin said. "But I stand by what I said."

At Tuesday's meeting, a staff report detailing ways the city has helped the Jonathan Street area in recent years was provided.

"It looks wonderful on paper," Irvin said of the report.

The city can build facilities but unless the community touches the hearts of teenagers, the community has failed, he said.

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