David Davis MP, in his appearance on the Question Time “riots special” said: “There are estates in Alan Simpson’s constituency where there are youngsters the age of 12 or 13 who got £30 a day paid for delivering drugs on whose estate the man to look up to was the drug dealers”
Brian Paddick: “Exactly”
Davis “because he had a big car and he lived well. And if we create circumstances like that it’ll be no surprise we get the problems we’ve had in London and the Midlands and the North in the last week.”
This is a fairly astute recognition of the central problem. Katharine Birbal-Singh was all over the television in the days after the riots bemoaning the lack of authority figures in these young people’s lives.
She’s wrong. There are authority figures. It’s just they are not the authority figures we would wish for them. What if the only affluent men with big cars and ostentatious “bling” living in these communities are the ones who have made that money by exploiting the drugs market?
While the rare footballing and musical successes might up sticks and leave, the all too common drug dealer remains to demonstrate to all the children in the area that they can achieve wealth and power. They don’t need to work hard, train, or practise skills. They just need to fall in with the right gang and they’ll receive a cut of the spoils. Why would any 13 year-old child stay in school if they could be earning a good, dishonest wage?
By no means all of young people are drawn into the drug market, but it can be no surprise that the cultural effects spread. The kids with the best accessories will be the ones that have the drug money. The aggression and attitude that these young recruits learn from their superiors then spreads among the peers that want to be like the kids who have it all. The idea that the police are the enemy spreads in the same way, but with the added reinforcement of stop and search powers making young people feel suspected of criminality when they are guilty of nothing. Unjustified suspicion of young people can only encourage a suspicion and resentment in return.
We have, as David Davis says, created a circumstance which encourages criminality. We have done this by mistakenly drawing the line of criminality well within an area where the morality is not instinctive.
Let’s face it. Selling cannabis, to a young person unaware of the harms it can cause, is about as likely to cause a crisis of conscience as the act of giving a fat man pie. But yet that young person is now a criminal. They have crossed that bridge. The police are now their enemy and not their friend. Other criminal acts are just steps and not the leaps that might be necessary to cause a second thought.
The people engaged in rioting have either committed criminal acts already or have witnessed the rewards that criminality can bring in their peers and their criminal authority figures. They regard the police as their enemy due to the fact that they themselves routinely commit criminal acts, have picked up on the culture of those who have committed criminal acts, or have been repeatedly suspected by the police of crime without any grounds. Their moral boundaries are confused.
The simple solution comes in the government control and regulation of psychoactive drugs. The government has up until now entirely abdicated responsibility for the control of most (not alcohol and tobacco) psychoactive drugs to criminal gangs. With that abdication of responsibility they have handed a multi-billion dollar market to criminals. Disputes that occur within this market can not be handled in the courts, so they are resolved by the violent deployment of knives or guns.
Prohibition has placed idols of conspicuous consumption and defiant masculinity within every deprived community in the land. The teachers and youth workers with their unreliable, 10-year-old run-arounds and their affordable clothing simply can’t compete for youth’s attention.
It will take a while to carefully prise away the wealth and power from these criminal idols. We don’t know what effects controlling and regulating drugs will have upon communities, or indeed on the behaviour of the idols themselves. It seems sensible for the supply and sale of cannabis to be the first that is considered. It is after all the illegal drug that is the most widely used, and the drug that the population would be most relaxed about being legally available.
Once we evaluate what effects cannabis regulation has we can continue to bleed power away from the criminal idols by regulating other drugs if the evaluations indicate this to be wise. We have seen in the shooting of Mark Duggan (if the Daily Mail is correct to believe locals that call him a gun-carrying crack dealer) that trying to challenge their power through enforcement risks provoking their hordes of followers to wreak havoc nationwide.
This is just one of many potential explanations for the terrifying events of the past week. Unlike the vast majority of the others it comes with a ready-made solution. I genuinely believe that we won’t be able to bring these young people back into society until we remove the powerful corrupting forces that draw them away. We’ve tried being tough on drugs for 40 years. Many loud voices are now calling for us to be tough on our children. Isn’t it about time we got smart on both?