The Garment District is Gotham’s newest shooting gallery, a disturbing heroin hotspot of addicts booting up in broad daylight.
The outgoing de Blasio administration appears unwilling or unable to address the crisis, as the quality-of-life disaster unfolds just steps from high-profile Midtown landmarks such as Macy’s, Madison Square Garden and the sparkling new Moynihan Train Hall.
The block bordered by 35th and 36th streets, and Seventh and Eighth Avenues, is “littered with used needles, broken glass crack pipes, trash, urine, and feces” as junkies shoot up and dealers brazenly sell drugs, lamented one neighbor on social media. “I’ve personally seen dozens of deals go down. I’ve seen a person OD and nearly die.”
During a single walk around the block last week, The Post witnessed three different people injecting needles in their wrists or fingers in the middle of the afternoon. Each addict sat on the sidewalk or in empty storefronts. Dozens of other junkies sat or lay nearly comatose, many of the men shirtless, on the same block.
“We are appalled and disgusted by the drug use and other illicit behaviors that are taking place on our sidewalks in Midtown Manhattan and throughout New York City,” Garment District Alliance President Barbara Blair told The Post. “We have been fighting to put an end to this crisis, however our city officials have unfortunately failed to address the problem and have allowed this public disorder to continue.”
Drug dealers appear to operate fearlessly on the block. A group of men, one of them sitting on a blue Citibike, gathered outside the A-C-E subway entrance on the northeast corner of Eighth and 35th, exchanging cash and other items as straphangers raced by them up and down the stairs.
Another deal went down as two men exchanged cash and small plastic bags on 36th Street.
The NYPD appears to have only a token presence. Two cops stood on Eighth Avenue between 35th and 36th, leaning up against a police van while staring into their phones, as illicit activities swirled around them.
But cops have been “effectively ordered” by city and state leaders to let junkies roam free, said Manny Gomez, a former NYPD sergeant and FBI special agent who now heads MG Security Services.
Under state law, possessing needles or small amounts of heroin, or injecting drugs, are non-bail offenses. So even if arrested, addicts are usually right back on the street and unlikely to face prosecution.
Gomez says cops face needless personal risks, too, without the support of political leaders. These risks include the threat of being stabbed by emotionally disturbed, needle-wielding junkies, possibly infected with HIV, and the fact that NYC this year became the first municipality in the nation to end qualified immunity for cops.
If an arrest with a violent drug-addled person turns bad, Gomez said, the cop “could lose their pension, their job, their home or even their freedom. It’s just not worth it.”
As a result, “New York City has become the city of The Walking Dead,” said Michael Alcazar, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former NYPD detective.
“This is the worst this block has ever been,” the neighbor wrote in his social media post. “People live here, and despite reporting and pleading with the NYPD to patrol more down this block, they are not doing anything to try and catch these dealers.”
In the Midtown South Precinct, which covers the drug-ravaged area, crime is up 42 percent this year through Sept. 12 compared to the same period in 2020, NYPD data show. The crime wave includes a shocking rise in gun violence. Ten people have been hit with bullets so far this year compared to just one person at the same point last year.
The sobering scorecard also shows robberies have skyrocketed 182 percent this year (268) from 2020 (95); and felony assaults have soared 163 percent (326 from 124). There have been two murders, compared to one last year.
The rampant use of hard drugs in the heart of Midtown comes as New York City is in the midst of a deadly opioid crisis that has been “terribly neglected” by the de Blasio administration and other leaders, said Luke Nasta, the executive director of Camelot Counseling, a longtime substance abuse treatment center on Staten Island.
He says the permissive approach by leaders here and across the nation of “coddling people who find themselves dependent on drugs and making more drugs (such as methadone) widely available to them,” coupled with an effort to handcuff law enforcement, has only served to “open up the flood gates of drug abuse, which is why overdose deaths are escalating and we see what we see on the streets.”
Nasta opened Camelot Counseling in 1976 and says the drug crisis has “never been as widespread or as visible as it is now.”
A “tidal wave” of synthetic methamphetamines and deadly fentanyl manufactured in Mexican labs and shipped to New York City has only exacerbated the opioid crisis, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported earlier this year.
The city suffered 1,446 overdose deaths in the first three quarters of 2020, the last period for which data is available, according to a report from the city Health Department, an increase of 38 percent of 2019 OD fatalities.
“This is a city problem. How has the city eroded this far so quickly?” asked Alcazar. “With lack of treatment and open use of drugs … The city has lost its focus.”
Meanwhile, a neighborhood normally filled with the buzz of tourists from around the globe passing between Penn Station and Times Square is the latest symbol of New York City’s descent into decay and disorder.
“It is absolutely critical that our elected officials take action immediately to remove these individuals from the streets and ensure the safety of all residents, employees and visitors as we work to rebuild New York City following the pandemic,” Blair said. “This change is long overdue.”
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