Riots, Causes and Tangents
This occurred to me as a tangent when I was writing down my thoughts on the Birmingham riots. It’s also a useful example to show how looking for causes sometimes turns up unexpected solutions, and how we shouldn’t be looking at a single idea to solve this problem entirely.
So this is my proposal for something that will reduce the likely hood of further riots occurring, that are driven by a criminal element, with a focus on theft and destruction, as opposed to riots which are driven by anger within a community over longstanding issues. (I’d also say that it’s a thin line between the two anyway – the criminal element exists because of longstanding issues, but I’m going to try to keep this post a bit focused). I also don’t want to suggest that these riots were simply because of a criminal element – this element was, in my opinion, the driving force behind what happened in Birmingham, but the same is not true elsewhere, nor was there simply a criminal element, as if no-one else that took part in or made the riots in Birmingham possible.
I think we should legalise drugs. All of them. They should be regulated and taxed. Money should be spent on education and rehabilitation programmes, as well as things like social housing and mental health services which can ease some of the underlying problems that often lead to drug abuse.
I don’t hear anyone much saying “it was drugs that caused the riots” – unless it’s as a part of a frothing condemnation of feral youths, out of control blah blah blah. I certainly don’t hear people saying prohibition is the problem.
But if criminal gangs are a problem, then we need to ask what can we change to solve this problem, and although I’m not going to go and fact check, I feel safe to say that a large amount of a typical organised criminal outfit’s income would come from drugs. So by legalising we’d cut off a large part of their income. We’d open up a legitimate business opportunity instead.
Although there is a huge amount of damage and violence, both personal and social, caused by the consumption of alcohol, there is I think little damage done in the production and supply chain, beyond the standard exploitation, unnecessary risk and casual abuse that is the nature of working in the capitalist system. There are I would guess specific pollution/environmental issues with the production of alcohol.
With drugs however, there is much personal and social damage caused in the production and supply chain. By bringing these into an arena where they can be regulated and where it is easier for workers to organise collectively, we can hugely reduce the damage caused by in this area.
In deprived areas, members of gangs are often those with the most material success. In a country that preaches materialism, that says we should be trying to make as much money as possible, is it any surprise that young people aspire to be part of these gangs, rather than working in low paid jobs, or sitting on the dole?
By legalising drugs you would reduce the income of criminal gangs, and in doing so reduce the aspirational value of these gangs, and indeed the relative financial merits of being a criminal rather than working. In no sense am I claiming this to be a complete solution, for gangs or the riots, I simply wanted to say it because sometimes the connections between structural causes and their outcomes are indirect or indistinct. I’m not, before anyone suggests it, thinking that our recent situation is anything like Mexico, or that ending prohibition would have such a strong effect here as it will there. But as a long time campaigner, the chance to shoe-horn in an argument, whilst making a point about diversity of effects, was too good to pass up 😉