Recently a number of extremely concerning and inhumane comments were made by a member of the Fortuna City Council regarding People Who Use Drugs (PWUD). The first statement was much more benign in relation to the second and was a wish of sort for us all to contract a disease we could get from used syringes. More horrific was the recent statement where a council member stated, “If you were on a ranch and you had mad cow disease, these people would all be put down. Unfortunately, we follow humanitarian boundaries in our society, so we’re not allowed to do that.” (“Council takes step toward syringe regulation plan,” Times-Standard, March 19, Page A1.) This is horrific for a number of reasons. The first and obvious is that the people Dean Glaser is referring to are exactly that, people. PWUD are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, bosses, employees and the one that seems to be forgotten here is PWUD are also constituents. The people you hope die are the people who also, in large part, make up our community.
The next issue that I take with these careless statements is: we live in a community rife with a history of vigilante behaviors and a large amount of senseless violence. For an elect to sit on a dais and use these old dog-whistle tactics to ensure further pain of an already hunted, targeted and marginalized group, is careless … at best. One of the things I would like to clearly state is that many people, 88 percent of people who use illegal drugs, do so without problem (Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2017 Report), and about 20 percent of our adult community suffers from mental health issues (nami.org), which holds true in the drug using community as well. So, people with problematic drug use that we see — the folks who this statement was most likely about — many of them are suffering from a medical condition. With that being said, you are singling out and targeting a protected class of people, people suffering from a medical condition along with a possible host of other issues. Most simply put, bigotry is absolutely unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue, much less be stated from the dais. Furthermore, is this the message we would like the rest of the country to think our community believes in? Because that is what they see; this story has made it to many, many parts of this country and once again we look like an oppressive, bigoted enclave of California.
One of the main tenets of the Harm Reduction movement is that we “meet people where they are at,” which includes misguided and mean-spirited people. What does that mean? It does not mean that we will happily stand in front of you and let you comment about how you think we all should die — in fact, the opposite. I invite you to be the leader that you were charged with being and meet and have conversations with those of us you don’t understand, because we too are your community members and constituents, and we have a voice. Our lives matter as much as yours and we hope that you will find the space in your heart to speak more kindly of your fellow community members who are enduring pains you know nothing of. It is only through communication and conversation that we as a community will grow and heal into a whole and vibrant space for all who inhabit it.
Brandie Wilson is executive director of the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction.