City residents who've lost the basketball hoops at Memorial Park advocated for more police presence and more patrol officers getting out of the cars and getting to know the next generation in Williamsport.
In so many words, the majority of those speaking Monday night during Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's town hall meeting at City Hall said police not showing a presence at the park and not getting to know the young adults and children is leading to a "great divide."
The disconnect is adding fuel to the fire of increased drug sales, particularly cheap heroin at $8 a bag, that is brought into the city by Colombian and Mexican cartels via Philadelphia and other major cities.
Mary Ann Ali comments about a video shown about the drug problems in the city during the mayor’s Town Hall Meeting at City Hall Monday.
Campana removed the basketball hoops last week, claiming he did it to prevent a shooting and the park becoming another Roy A. Flanigan Park, site of deadly shootings.
Darnell Kirkland said he was the disc jockey on a gangsta rap video that was played by city Assistant Police Chief Timothy Miller as a means to shock the audience and reveal how the "Port" is dominated by dealers who are recruiting the next generation.
"Get to know the kids," Kirkland said, adding the playing of rap is a form of entertainment, and by taking down the hoops the city administration
was causing "a great divide. Be a human being. Stop sitting in cars."
Regina Henry suggested that if police would show more of a presence at Memorial Park it would deter sales of drugs if they were regularly under the watchful eye of police officers.
"Your presence is felt in the midst of a crime," Henry said. "Bring your presence to the park."
"There is not enough members of the Pennsylvania National Guard to be everywhere to address this situation," Miller responded.
"If cops were at Memorial Park, there's not going to be any shooting," Derrick Rizzo said.
Allen Taylor, boys varsity basketball coach at Williamsport Area High School, said police need to "develop relationships with these kids. If you take something away from our kids, how is that going to affect our programs?"
Campana said he took the hoops away with regret, but it was to prevent the park from being taken over by drug dealers and the conditions, including foul language, needles and baggies of drugs, were driving away families.
As each resident and some non-residents spoke, one-by-one, Miller said he welcomed ideas and individuals to become part of a Team Williamsport, a concept he developed to take age-old problems such as the drugs, overdoses and violence that has become a crisis, and empower citizens to be a part of the solution.
Ideas were shared with police and the mayor, such as the petition started by Natalie Turri, a mother with a 2 1/2-year-old son, who went to Memorial Park four times this spring.
Saying she started the petition to bring the hoops back because she and others using the park weren't informed Campana would remove them, she said she believed it was time to start an organization that would pick up trash in the neighborhood.
"I didn't see any trash or I would have picked it up," said Turri, of the 1100 block of Franklin Street. On her Facebook page, "Bring the Hoops Back," Turri's site had garnered more than 329 "likes" since Friday.