In the early morning hours of July 1, gunfire, believed to be gang related, broke out at the Power Ultra Lounge nightclub, in downtown Little Rock.
Twenty-five men and women were wounded and taken to local hospitals. And all have survived.
It immediately brought to mind the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida a year ago when twenty-nine year old security guard Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people and wounded 58 more in the name of Allah.
On a recent oppressively hot summer day, I visited the site of the shooting, an empty storefront across an empty street from a parking deck. So unimposing was it, that I wouldn’t have found it, if it hadn’t been for the help of a friendly guy at a nearby Army surplus store.
In the aftermath of the shooting in Little Rock, solutions have tended to focus more on clamping down on the supply side of dealing with drug problem, which is more law enforcement, rather than on the demand side which focuses more on treatment and rehabilitation.
Judy Green a member of the quorum court in Pulaski county, as reported in the Arkansas Democrat, weighed in on the supply side by suggesting that cities in the county prohibit concerts or performers who sing songs that “promote or incite violence.”
After the shooting, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the appointment of Benton police chief, Kirk Lane as the new drug director chairman of the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council, responsible for coordinating alcohol and drug abuse prevention initiatives.
According to the announcement, Lane “will help craft a substance abuse strategy that will coordinate resources from across the department and not focus solely on incarceration but will include understanding and education.
Hutchinson said Lane is well equipped to serve in the position considering his law enforcement experience and background with the FBI.
Lane has also been a member of the Arkansas prescription drug-monitoring program, which was effective on the supply side, and the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse coordinating Council.
Lane is likely to have his hands full. There has been a gradual re-emergence of gangs from a previous high point two decades ago as a serious threat to Little Rock citizens.
We think we can help with our proposed Little Rock Roundtable, which focuses on drying up the demand for alcohol and other drugs. Ultimately, it will focus on the recovery of every individual who seeks help.
Little Rock’s assets include excellent hospitals (dealing with both mental health and drug addiction problems), community-focused and entrepreneurial churches, traditional 12 step programs and a history of proactively dealing with addictions dating back to 1940. The plan is focused on:
- Reducing the demand for alcohol and other drugs by promoting recovery while maintaining adequate law enforcement protection to limit the supply.
- Forming collaborations with other organizations with complementary objectives.
- Promoting healthy lifestyles in spirit, mind and body.
- Encouraging the interest and support of local governments.
As for the realities of helping people overcome their addictions, we find the book, “Fighting Back, The First Eight Years” of enormous help.
The Fighting Back book reports on the experience of 15 communities, including Little Rock, on reducing gang violence and lists some of the difficulties communities face in trying to help addicted members of the population. As we develop our Little Rock plan we will be influenced by the following observations provided by the authors of “Fighting Back.”
Competing theories about drug use
Individuals working in the field of substance abuse often have widely divergent theories about why people begin using drugs. Is it a symptom of family breakdown or an impoverished spiritual life? Is it a refuge from the pain of every day existence or a natural consequence of a culture that encourages sensation seeking? The strategy a community develops and implements is dependent on which particular theories dominate their group discussions about substance abuse.
Short-term initiatives versus long-term strategy
In any planning group there is a tension between short-term initiatives such as a youth appreciation festival and long-term strategies such as after-school programs. The short-term initiatives are easier to implement and provide immediate benefits. However they are difficult to repeat year after year. Longer-term strategies are more complicated, more risky and often contain long–term financial implications for a community.
Demand Reduction versus Supply reduction
Although fighting back was labeled as a demand reduction program, in every community supply reduction strategies competed for program time and money. Supply reduction strategies (crack house elimination, reducing youth access to alcohol and developing stronger enforcement of beverage control laws, etc.) were more popular and easier to define and implement. For example, while an entire community might be in favor of getting rid of crack houses a program offering job training for high school drop outs was likely to be controversial.
A changing cast of characters
All fighting back sites had to cope with frequent leadership changes in many community systems. Each site faced the challenge of sustaining coherent strategies in the face of these personnel changes.
Turf battles, money woes and keeping score
In some communities there may be battles among providers and others. There will be money shortages and possible disagreements over whether some of the projects are working.
Still, it’s clear we can do more together.