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Editorial: fabric’s Reopening Conditions Don’t Solve The Problem

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Let me put my hands forward and state that I was nothing short of ecstatic when I heard yesterday that fabric had won its latest battle against local officials and was granted permission to reopen. The news is a win for dance music and nightlife culture in London, the United Kingdom and everywhere else, as evidenced by the sheer number of people that signed the #savefabric petition of support and donated money to the #saveourculture fundraiser initially intended to be used for an official appeal by the Islington club.

The club’s license is being reinstated with 32 specific conditions that have been agreed upon by all parties involved and approved by judge Robin McPhee at Highbury Magistrates Court.

The official joint statement, which you can read here, explains the history of how the agreement was reached and delineates the conditions that will need to be enforced as part of the venue’s Zero Tolerance to Drugs policy. Early on, it states that, “Fabric repudiates the online abuse aimed at Committee members and Council staff and will permanently exclude anyone who has been found to be involved,” while going on to specify that “Fabric Life will pay Islington’s costs in these proceedings directly and not from the monies pledged by supporters.”

It then lists some specific conditions to be enforced:

– The use of a new I.D. scanning system on entry to the club
– Enhanced searching procedures and controls
– Covert surveillance within the club
– Life-time bans for anyone found in possession of drugs, whether on entry or within the club
– Life-time bans for anyone trying to buy drugs in the club
– Enhanced monitoring and external auditing for compliance against procedures
– Physical changes to the club, including improved lighting and additional CCTV provision
– A new Security Company
– Persons under 19 years of age shall not be permitted to be on the premises as a customer or guest from 2000 hours on a Friday until 0800 hours on the following Monday or on any day during the hours that the operators promote a Core Club Night.

While fabric’s reopening is surely a victory, the wording of the joint statement sounds too eerily similar to that of plea bargain agreement, rather than one recognizing that the venue should have never been closed in the first place. Sure, while fabric may have been spared from expensive and lengthy legal proceedings, it is now being forced to use its own funds to pay Islington Council’s costs rather than those willingly donated by the club’s patrons and supporters. Further, those who stood alongside fabric and spoke up against the council’s decision to shut down the club could potentially find themselves banned from entering fabric’s doors ever again, an interesting set-back on the basic idea of free speech.

More worrying is the nature of the conditions that will now be put in place and, surely for the club’s sake, enforced vigorously. They clearly state that anyone found in possession of any drugs at point of entry or inside the club will be banned from the venue for life, as will anyone attempting to buy drugs inside fabric’s walls. Harsher searching procedures and the use of covert surveillance inside the venue will ensure that it will be incredibly hard for anyone to enter the club with drugs or to buy them once inside, least not for the huge penalty hanging over their head if caught doing so.

While the argument here is far from being pro-drugs, it leaves me to wonder if club-goers will simply find ways to work around these new rules while still consuming their drug of choice. It is not far-fetched, for example, to imagine ravers taking drugs right before entering the venue, perhaps as they get off the tube or while walking toward the club. The point being made here is the same one that has been repeated in the past when the topic of drug usage in the nightlife world comes up: the solution is not to blanket-ban drug usage or those who consume drugs, but to educate our youth on the effects of drugs and to provide safety measures whenever and wherever possible. We have so often seen illustrious and respected members of out community advocate for drug testing, and calling for solutions that do so in the name of education and safety. Judge McPhee, however, was quoted as saying, “I am satisfied that the council and Fabric pulled together to get a set of workable conditions to prevent drug use,” a statement that is frankly far too disconnected from the reality of nightlife and, as such, ultimately unrealistic.

By reaching an agreement and not going to court, fabric has foregone the chance of setting an important legal precedent which could have safeguarded not only the club’s future but that of any other venue facing similar problems in the years to come.  This isn’t a matter of condemning or condoning drug usage, it’s a matter of providing the true measures that will stop further deaths from happening in the future — the same deaths that brought about fabric’s closure in the first place. The current sanctions and conditions will not prevent club-goers from consuming drugs but will simply force them to take them earlier in the night or to get a little more clever so they do not get caught bringing them inside the club.

In fact some, including myself, argue that these conditions set a precedent that could be taking London’s nightlife a few steps back rather than forward. Very strict search procedures, covert surveillance, increased CCTV system and blanket bans will now be standard operating procedure in the biggest and most known nightclub in London. These conditions have been essentially labeled as a standard for others to follow, and that kind of statement has serious repercussions for nightlife as a whole.

For society to make progress on the subject of drug usage it needs to stop believing that Zero Tolerance policies work. They do not. We have seen it in a true large scale with America’s War On Drugs, and we see it confirmed every day on the streets of Amsterdam. Plenty of studies have supported the idea that decriminalizing drugs in the UK would result in less people consuming them, and The Times recently broke new ground declaring itself in favor of treating drug use and possession as a health issue rather than a crime. The policing at Glastonbury, UK’s biggest music festival, has often been described as “friendly”, with the Avon and Somerset force following a “policing by consent” policy. Interestingly enough, Glastonbury rarely sees drug-related deaths and reported improved crime and drug-related offenses for 2015, with a drastic fall from the year before. And how about Portugal’s excellent results following 15 years of drug decriminalization?

I could go on listing and citing evidence to this regard but I think the point is clear: fabric’s reopening is surely a win, but it’s one marred by a nonsensical Zero Tolerance approach that is unrealistic and unworkable. It’s imperative to not lose sight of why the club was shut down in the first place, a loss of life that is preventable with education and safety, rather than with the paranoia created through stricter searches, covert surveillance and blanket bans.

The battle has been won but the war to #saveourculture is far from over.

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