The mob took over Thursday night in Hudson Falls, whipped up by an irresponsible deputy mayor, its shouts drowning out any chance for reasonable questions to be asked or answered.
Some people, like Ronald Johnson of James Street, went to the public meeting because they wanted to hear what the Alliance for Positive Health hopes to accomplish by establishing a clean needle exchange in the village.
Unfortunately, Robert Cook, the deputy mayor, used the meeting as a platform for grandstanding and demonizing, and the raucous reaction that met his rhetoric made it impossible for anyone to learn anything.
Mr. Johnson, a longtime resident of the village, did some homework before going to the meeting. Addicts who take part in needle exchanges are more likely to seek out rehab, according to information he found.
The truth is, many people in our area have gotten caught up in the opioid/heroin epidemic. If nothing else, a needle exchange can protect them from infections and from blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
Whether you think a clean needle exchange is the right way to fight this epidemic or not, you cannot deny that it is ravaging our community. It must be addressed somehow, but before we can act, we have to listen.
People are suffering and dying. Families are being torn apart. We aren’t treating this problem with the seriousness it deserves if we shout down the folks who are trying to solve it.
We don’t know if a needle exchange is the answer, and we don’t know if it should be located downtown. But we do know this epidemic will continue if we refuse even to consider ways to address it.
This meeting could have begun the process of public discussion and debate that should take place before the Alliance moves its office downtown. Public input is a required part of that process.
Cook organized the meeting on Thursday, but the organization’s director, Bill Faragon, attended. When he was asked to speak, and tried to, he was shouted down, including by people shouting “Liar!”
This is a man who goes to work to help people who are suffering, and some of us have loved ones among those sufferers. You don’t have to support Alliance’s move, but Faragon deserved at least the respect of being heard without getting screamed at.
Alliance has a clinic and needle exchange in Ticonderoga’s downtown across from the post office. We understand people are afraid of drug addicts and of needles, and it’s reasonable — it’s healthy — to come to a public meeting to hear information that, perhaps, could put those fears to rest.
What is unreasonable and unhealthy is the whipping up of the community with misleading statements, which is what Cook did. He appealed to the worst instincts of the crowd by bringing out a toddler who lives in an upstairs apartment in the building. He said addicts would be shooting up in the bathrooms of nearby restaurants. He ran the meeting like a protest rally, not an opportunity to gather information.
But it’s still possible to move past fear-mongering to a civil dialogue, and we hope that happens. We won’t make any progress in the fight against heroin by shouting insults at the people on its front lines.