As fentanyl and a tranquilizer ominously called the zombie drug ravage one of Philadelphia’s most notorious neighborhoods, mayoral candidate David Oh says the solution is straightforward: “I would shut down Kensington Avenue.”
“Starting at one end of the street and arresting everyone who is breaking the law,” Oh said. That means everyone selling or buying drugs, walking around in a zombie state, prostituting, defecating or violating any other ordinance.
The Kensington neighborhood has gained international infamy as an open-air drug market. It was among the first places overtaken by the newest terrifying drug, xylazine, a potent veterinary tranquilizer often referred to as tranq or the zombie drug because it rots users’ flesh.
Oh said he’s “very concerned” about the emergence of tranq in Kensington.
“This is the evolution of drug use in a place where drug use is rampant and unchecked,” he said.
When Oh started his legal career in a district attorney’s office in the 1980s, he said he found himself prosecuting a juvenile who was scheduled to have his arm amputated due to heroin use.
“It is a very strange thing as a prosecutor to be arguing for inpatient care for this person while the public defender is arguing to let him out to continue drug use that is slowly killing this person,” Oh said. “Tranq is yet another milestone along the way of how badly people are damaged through the idea that you can let people hurt themselves at their own will.”
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Oh is the only Republican running for mayor in a field of 12 candidatesseveral of whom previously served alongside him on the Philadelphia City Council. He said the city’s tolerance of public drug use isn’t helping anyone.
“The message right now is this city does not care about the residents, the children, the young people who are selling and dealing drugs and the drug addicted themselves,” Oh said.
Under his plan to crack down on crime in KensingtonOh said drug addicts who are arrested would be provided with detox or mental health services.
“But when the word goes out that Kensington as people know it does not exist, the people seeking to exploit people will no longer come there,” he said, and addicts from other counties would no longer flock to the neighborhood to “live for years on the sidewalk or in an alley, prostituting, stealing, being injured, being harmed, losing their mental capabilities.”
Kensington’s violent crime rate was about 30% higher than the rest of the city from 2012 through 2016 according to a Drexel University study. The neighborhood also saw a higher rate of complaints about graffiti, illegal dumping, vacant houses and dangerous buildings than the city at large.
Oh said the subway system has become a de facto homeless shelter, and crime deters some residents from using public transportation. Stores are battered by shoplifting and robberieshe added, all problems that could be fixed.
“If you shut down Kensington Avenue, people will be much better off,” he said. “The children can come out and play. The stores can open again. They can take some of that security down and start stocking their shelves … and life can return to that neighborhood.”