Advocates speak, sit-in at City Hall for safe consumption report’s release

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2018, 11:50 a.m.
Advocates for safer consumption facilities for drug addicts took over City Hall last Thursday.
New York City Hall Wikipedia

Advocates for safer consumption facilities for drug addicts took over City Hall last Thursday. They called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to release the results of a report on the feasibility of safe consumption spaces in the boroughs.

In 2016, current City Council Speaker and then Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson set aside $100,000 in the Health Department’s budget to pay for a report on the feasibility of safe consumption spaces. At the time, overdose-related deaths were more than the combined total of suicides, homicides and deaths by car accidents.

According to Housing Works CEO Charles King, the de Blasio administration finished the report last year, but hasn’t released the results. King said the report was finished in December, but the mayor has so far declined to release it publicly.

During the City Hall news conference, King related the story of two different, and now deceased, advocates for the marginalized.

“Yesterday, events were held all across this land to honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his assassination for daring time and again to speak truth to power,” said King. “Today marks the 14th anniversary of the death of Keith Cylar, co-founder of Housing Works and my life partner for some 15 years. Keith also spoke truth to power, not just on behalf of people who use drugs.”

Cylar spent most of his adult life addicted to drugs and died of an overdose. But he also advocated on behalf of addicts and—as a gay Black man—the LGBTQ community.

“I will go to my grave knowing that if someone had been with him at that moment who knew how to intervene, he might well be standing here today,” said King.

Back in February, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said that although the department doesn’t have a position on safe injection facilities, they were in discussions with the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene about the issue. De Blasio has gone on record stating that the issue is “complex.” According to Drug Policy Alliance’s New York State Director Kassandra Frederique, the issue is easy to understand.

“That is our only goal,” said Frederique. “It’s to save lives. By ending the stigma, by investing resources, by ending criminalization and by loving people regardless of what behaviors they choose to do. I’m in the business of saving lives. I don’t do politics … I say things how they are. What I see is that for two years, organizations like Housing Works, VOCAL-NY… Drug Policy Alliance, have consistently been there taking about the overdose crisis.”

Frederique continued, “Because we knew there was an overdose crisis before City Hall did. We didn’t need a report to tell us that our loved ones are dying ... We didn’t need reports telling us that Blacks and Latinos were dying at a similar rate to white people. We need leadership and what we don’t have is leadership.”

As other speakers took turns at the podium, approximately a dozen advocates, led by King, walked up the steps of City Hall and tried to make their way to the mayor’s wing of the building. When they couldn’t get in, they sat down and started chanting, “No more overdoses!”

Police and security dragged the protestors out as the rest of the crowd, now in front of City Hall’s entrance, chanted, “Release the report!”

“There is a path we can take where fewer of our neighbors, our friends and our family members lose their lives,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the General Welfare Committee, in a statement. “That path is through a serious commitment to harm reduction and safer consumption spaces in particular. The drug war has failed. In its wake is a public health crisis of tremendous proportion. We have a tool that is proven to increase access to treatment and reduce fatal overdoses. We can take action today.”

Frederique summed up her feelings about the mayor when she said de Blasio isn’t “leading the parade.”

“He’s following it,” she stated.