Have you ever watched a group of young children play soccer? Just imagine a swarm of bees, and you’ll have the picture: No matter which way the ball goes, every player will run, en masse, in the same direction.
Lately the national press has been swarming like 6-year-old soccer players — all running in the same direction to chase down the story of heroin in Vermont, specifically in the city of Rutland.
The queen bee of media, The New York Times, started it off, but in no time everyone from Al Jazeera to NBC News ran to chase the ball. This includes, of course, Rolling Stone magazine, whose ironic take on our iconic maple syrup industry seemed to hit a statewide nerve. Funny, since despite the outrage, Rolling Stone actually came closest to reporting on the actual story.
So what is the real story?
First, some full disclosure. I live in Rutland, in the very neighborhood the press has been painting as the apex of America’s heroin epidemic.
The NYT reporter requested an interview — in her words, she wanted to “see my house,” as if she were looking for the quintessential den of iniquity with dirty needles strewn here and there.
What’s amazing is how quickly she withdrew her request the minute I spoke of the beauty of the neighborhood and our strong sense of community. Clearly that was not the story she was after. And before you could say “buzz” the rest of the media swarmed into the city to reiterate what the queen had already reported.
How could all of them have missed the real story? Considering the number of people who tried to show and tell the truth, it was not for lack of access. I guess a picture of a needle in an arm is more compelling than the complexity of a community coming together to identify and solve a problem and, in turn, improving the quality of life for everyone.
So without wasting precious column space restating the statistics of local heroin use, here is the story the media failed to report.
Rutland acknowledges that drug use is negatively impacting the entire community and recognizes that the solution does not rest solely — or even predominantly — in the hands of law enforcement. The people of Rutland proactively mobilize to develop a multi-tiered strategy involving everything from fixing up or tearing down blighted buildings, planting flowers and building community gardens, hosting block parties, developing community mediation outlets, adding solar panels to street lights, and increasing the number of recreation scholarships. Project VISION is born.
Mental health and domestic violence organizations develop strong partnerships with those who provide support and treatment for people struggling with substance abuse. The police department works closely with these partners to ensure that police calls can result in long-term help instead of only warnings or arrests.
A new chief of police is appointed, and the department dramatically changes the way it does business. Each sector of the city now has its own community police officer. Crime mapping pinpoints exact locations where drugs and crime are real problems.
Using a drug market intervention model, the police focus on arresting the dealers who are causing real harm to the community — and with the help of family, community members and partner agencies, offer support and treatment to all others.
There’s the real story. When faced with a problem that virtually every other community in the country shares, Rutland moves forward with honesty, intelligence, collaboration and pride.
Will it work? I think it already has. For more than a year, a standing-room-only crowd of 100-plus people has been meeting monthly to develop and refine strategies for strengthening our community. The room is filled with a diverse group of people who all share one common trait — pride in Rutland — and one common goal — to improve the quality of life for everyone in the community.
That is the story that should make headlines.
The farming season is now off and running, and I will take a break from writing my Weekly Planet column until the fall. Thank you for being such a generous and kind readership.
Carol Tashie, co-owner of Radical Roots Farm, lives in Rutland City and tries hard to find a balance between what is possible and what is impossible to ignore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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