An Atlanta neighborhood tries love to win the war on drugs

The word notorious only begins to describe one of the biggest neighborhoods for heroin in the Southeast.

For decades, authorities and residents have struggled to fight drug dealers in a section of Atlanta many call the Bluff… but neighbors prefer English Avenue.

Instead of the revolving door of locking up drug dealers, only to see them back on the streets days later, the new effort involves fewer handcuffs... and a lot more hugs.

The Atlanta Police Department, Fulton County District Attorney, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the US Attorney's office worked with community leaders to identify 19 suspected heroin dealers who deserved a second chance.

They hand-delivered letters to all 19, inviting them to a unique meeting at Lindsay Street Baptist Church. They were promised they would not be arrested.

Fourteen showed up. And they heard a lot.

"I've been in law enforcement for 43 years and I've never seen heroin dealers being given the opportunity to redeem themselves the way that you are getting now," marveled GBI director Vernon Keenan.

Even though state and federal authorities played what they said is video evidence of each of them selling heroin, they were not arrested.

Instead they were smothered with love.

"You all are my people. I love you. I know God is going to do something through you," promised local resident Mother Mamie Moore.

For the first time, authorities are trying a new approach, called the Drug Market Intervention or DMI. It's been tried successfully in other cities including High Point, NC, but never on a scale like this.

"It brings the community in as a partner in identifying people who may not be worthy of prosecution, who may be worth of a second chance. And who will be diverted from prosecution and offered services to kind of turn their lives around," said acting US Attorney John Horn.

Those suspects sat across from pictures of 20 other accused English Avenue heroin dealers who didn't get the same chance. They're now in federal custody, awaiting a much grimmer future.

"We want to let you know now and forever that selling dope, street drug crime and violence will no longer be tolerated in this neighborhood." John Horn told the 14.

We talked to two of the invitees after the meeting. We chose not to use their names.

"At first I didn't know what to expect. I thought it was a trick," said one.

"I expected to come here and go to jail once I got this paper but God is good," said a 48-year-old Gainesville man.

"Have you sold your last bag of heroin?" I asked.

"Yes, Yes I have."

"What do you need to stop selling heroin?" I asked the first man. "Get a job really. That's it. Get a job and go back to school. This is my last chance. I can't do nothing but jump on it."

They have until Friday to make up their minds and take advantage of job training, housing, literacy assistance, mental health or drug addiction help.

If they don't, authorities vow to hit them with everything they've got if they chose to get in trouble again in English Avenue.

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