Mayor Demands Merchants Stop Sales of Drug Paraphernalia
Two days after several D.C. City Council members demanded that he resign amid allegations that his aides ran a shadow campaign and improperly used campaign funds, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray addressed a group of incensed residents in front of a business in Southeast.
The embattled mayor spoke to a group of 60 District and law enforcement officials, community leaders and Ward 8 residents, who gathered in front of the Bunn Building on Martin Luther King Avenue and challenged them to take action against various stores in the community that sell drug paraphernalia and loose cigarettes.
"Last year, at a Congress Heights Community Association meeting, I indicated that I would write a letter to Ward 8 businesses, asking them to stop selling drug paraphernalia and that I would personally distribute it to businesses," said Gray, 69. "Well, that day has come ... and the idea, frankly, is to reduce the prevalence of these items."
According to statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department, Ward 8 outpaced the rest of the wards in 2010 and 2011 in crime, much of which can be attributed to the use of illegal narcotics. As academic case studies continue to show the direct link between substance abuse and crime, District officials demand that the continued sale of drug paraphernalia by certain Ward 8 stores stop immediately.
Gray, D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Mohammad N. Akhter, D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Nicholas A. Majett and Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC) Executive Director Philip Pannell, collaborated with local anti-crime groups and community leaders to participate in an afternoon walkthrough of the Congress Heights Business District. Many of the fast food and convenience stores along the corridor featured Newport cigarette, flavored cigars and liquor advertisements that jostled for attention in storefront windows.
"Only 25 percent of the space in their windows and stores should be used for advertising," said the Rev. Edwin L. Jones Sr., 61, who lives in Northeast. "But in wards 7 and 8, and east of the river, these cigarette and liquor ads bombard our community and neighborhoods. We're out here today to ask them to be a part and eliminate those things in their stores and the community and to also put more back into the community as citizens."
After18 years of meticulous planning and preparation, Pannell said he's relieved to see this dream become a reality. The ACC began its anti-drug paraphernalia campaign in 1994.
"It's so encouraging," Pannell, 61, said as he walked along the Congress Heights business corridor. "And to see the mayor being willing to take his personal time to go into the stores. I say that here in this community, if we can effectively stop stores from selling these things, this movement will spread throughout the city."
A crowd of supporters and neighborhood residents followed Gray and District officials on Friday, July 13 as the group made its way to the Hong Kong Delite Carryout. Children and teenagers from the District of Columbia's Ward 7 and 8 Prevention Center – an organization that aims to diminish the access of alcohol and illegal drugs to adolescents – carried a large blue and white banner that bore the organization's name and logo. A number of drivers passing by slowed down to honk their horns in support. Those on foot stopped to shake Gray's hand and offer encouraging words of support.
As the group entered the carryout – one of 13 stores and gas stations visited as part of the walkthrough – Gray approached a shop employee who stood behind bulletproof glass. Shortly after, the employee opened the side door to let him in so that the two could talk privately. Within minutes, the employee began to remove boxes of rolling papers, cigars and other drug paraphernalia from shelves. "People understand why we are here," Gray said as he walked to his next stop.
"They know that we are developing an even more aggressive approach to having this drug paraphernalia out of our stores and in these communities."
The magnitude of the problem became evident when the group entered the Dollar Plus Food Store. More than 50 boxes of flavored cigars, which some customers use to smoke marijuana, lined the counter behind the cash register. Stops at other businesses uncovered loose cigarettes and hookah pipes, used to smoke tobacco or marijuana.
"For the sake of a few pennies, they are selling the souls of our children to the devil," Akhter said. "Once they start smoking, they start using drugs and get involved in criminal activity, and then they end up in the justice [system] and in jail. And the community pays for all of those things in addition to what happens to the individuals themselves."
"It's much simpler for us to be able to prevent people from smoking and from doing drugs than it is to reach them when they are already in the middle of it."
Gray's efforts were met with little resistance as merchants allowed the mayor and agency heads to dispose of the drug paraphernalia and loose cigarettes. District officials hope that the follow-up visits planned for Monday, July 16 will ensure that merchants are doing more than just offering lip service.
"We're indicating to them that this is a warning today if they have drug paraphernalia, and the next time, there will be a $2,000 fine," Gray said. "They've indicated that they would conform. We'll find out."