Let’s talk about an issue that no doubt has surfaced in many other areas around the globe but for the purpose of this article will be narrowed to a local scene, that I have witnessed first hand.
The recent opening of a safe consumption site within this city has caused quite a stir among the population, with debate opening up all over the city on whether it is doing more harm than good. The site, which is in the heart of the club strip within the city, has caused a slew of complaints from local business and there has been fear growing in the general population, at least that is what one can gather from some of the complaints and worries being blasted on social media. It has gotten to the point that one of the local business owners has been snapping pictures and taking footage of the consumption site users, specifically the ones that sometimes loiter around the businesses property.
Clearly, the issue is blown out of proportion with the inclusion of social media where emotions, conformity, and mimicry can run rampant through the network, like a contagion, often falling outside of the awareness of users. Thus, sneaking past the more rational capacity of the mind (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock 2018). Exacerbating the issue is a recent article from Macleans (2018, November 8), which shows that Lethbridge appears to be one of the most dangerous places in the country. Falling behind Red Deer and Wetaskiwin.
Now, the casual observer, or someone who glances at such a headline, is no doubt going to feel a sense of worry or alarm at these headlines being put in front of them. Fear and anxiety are powerful triggers for prejudiced behaviors especially if those in certain groups share certain cognitive styles and have unacknowledged views of the self that they tend to project onto outside groups to ease these often unrecognized or repressed aspects of themselves (Allport, 1954). The article certainly seems to have had some effect on the views of some within the city.
Here we can see another aspect that is contributing to the problem at hand. There are many people worried about being targeted by those who use the consumption site. However, one of the flaws with the Macleans article, especially when it comes to safety, is that it isn’t revealing in the demographics of the victims of the crimes being reported. When actually looking at the people who are likely to be the victims of crime on the stats Canada website, it reveals that drug users themselves are actually much more likely to be the victims of violent victimization, with numbers four times higher than non-users. In fact, drug usage is one of the strongest determinants of a person being the victim of a violent crime. Of course, there is the worry of break-ins and property theft, though the lasting effects that are left from such incidences are minimal, according to statistics Canada, where emotional and psychological damage is less likely.
These worries have been exaggerated.
The interactions between the users and the general public are stilted through the garbage spewed from social media and general rumor. Where the fear of crime or victimization inhibits normal social interaction which in turn works against what the consumption site is trying to accomplish. Those who are fearful of the drug users fogged by their own biases, misinformation, and prejudices, trigger interactions that might just create the very environment or situation they fear.
Locking them up for drug use is not a proper solution either. The big problem with prison is that, overall, incarceration has no effect of curbing criminal behavior and can even increase recidivism, based on length of imprisonment. It similarly drains funding from more effective methods of dealing with the issue, such as social programs and education (Gendreau, Goggin, & Cullen 1999). The fact is, the consumption site seems to be a more appropriate solution to the problem than having the drug users go back underground where they become another issue the RCMP has to deal with.
As a response to some of the negative press, Lethbridge Sgt. Bruce Hagel has said he wants to be “putting more boots on the streets” (Campbell, 2018). This seems like a good method for deterrence but does not deal with the problem overall. Though, the Sgt. has noted that the Macleans article needs to be viewed with a grain of salt (Smith, 2018). At best, it seems to be a temporary plan to at least alleviate some of the worries of those who are fearful of the site’s users, to see it as a solution, though, would only serve to cement the roles of both police and drug users. In which case, nothing would be accomplished, except for the hushing of a larger issue in the city. Even the recent state of the criminal justice system issued by the Department of Justice (2019) acknowledges that those with addictions and mental health issues have to be handled in a more thoughtful manner because of problems at a social and systematic level.
I have heard complaints that the city rushed into the establishment of the site and still need intox and detox as well as affordable housing for those who need it. Despite this, these issues are just beginning to be addressed and from the looks of things, will be a better solution than closing the doors of the consumption site and going back to ignoring many of the strong racial and social issues that have been underlying Lethbridge’s exterior for some time.
A solution to counter this is spread of some of the actual facts around drug usage and how, after all, the users themselves are, by and large, the real victims here, and not those middle and upper-class business owners who for the most part suffer some inconveniences, but little in the way that could ruin their lives. Though it certainly gives them a path to ignoring the real issue, an imbalanced social structure that grinds these populations through a continuous cycle of institutionalization and poverty.
Viewing and being aware of the social system that we inhabit, rather than falling into the use of lazy stereotypes or sliding into groupthink or conformity to nullify negative feelings that can sometimes overwhelm our more rational capacities, will help us grow more positively as a society. Bring the often ignored background of our cities privileges to the periphery of those who choose to ignore the hard truths that lay at the core of our city and even nation.
The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Oxford, England: Addison-Wesley.
Canadas most dangerous places 2019. Macleans. Retrieved from: https://www.macleans.ca/canadas-most-dangerous-places-2019/
Department of Justice. (2019, May 30). State of the Criminal Justice System – 2019 Report. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/state-etat/2019rpt-rap2019/p7.html
Gendreau, P. Goggin, C., & Cullen, F. T. (1999). The Effects of Prison Sentences on Recidivism. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada.
Smith, G. (2018, November 06). Police respond as Lethbridge posts third largest increase on CSI. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://lethbridgenewsnow.com/2018/11/06/police-respond-as-lethbridge-posts-third-largest-increase-on-csi/
Kramer, ADI, Guillory, JE, Hancock, JT. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1320040111
Campbell, Q. (2018, November 06). Lethbridge moving up list of Canada’s most dangerous places: Maclean’s magazine. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://globalnews.ca/news/4632860/lethbridge-crime-statistics-macleans-rankings/