On July 15th, 2011, Vancouver once again demonstrated the unmanly art of rioting. In five hellacious hours, several thousand people explained to the world — carefully and in glorious YouTube detail — that Vancouver is a punk city. These were not the actions of a few anarchists or criminals bent on wholesale destruction – as many will try and tell you. No, it was not those proverbial bad apples who ruined our city’s reputation. These were regular citizens, bandwagon hockey fans who got carried away on a mixture of alcohol and excitement. Wild eyed and intoxicated by the sound of breaking glass, and high on teargas and burning automobile upholstery they rose to the occasion. They’re currently putting on the brag to their friends. Of course, the majority of folks downtown didn’t actually burn cars or smash windows. Some did do a little freeboot looting when the opportunity arose, but mostly, they wandered around, looking animated and taking Facebook tributes with their smartphones. They can confess their innocence — and believe me they will. What they didn’t do, however, was leave when the cars starting burning and the cops showed up in riot gear. The interesting question is why?
Understand that the Vancouver Riot 2011 was not an isolated event. Like it or not, rioting and wanton destruction have become an integral part of our city. In the eyes of the world, they’re as synonymous with Vancouver as the mountains, the ocean and the Lions Gate Bridge. Let me explain. Those young people, tearing the city to rags Wednesday night, were no more than children in 1994 when that generation broke apart at the seams and turned a sporting event into broken glass and mayhem. Likewise, many of the rioters of ’94 probably weren’t even born when Vancouver hosted the “Grey Cup Riot” in 1966. That’s three seperate generations, spread over nearly fifty years! Do you detect a pattern here, Mr. Holmes? Regardless of what kind of inquiries and investigations the local apologists want to come up with the only common denominator in half a century is Vancouver and young people. Any other Johnny-come-lately explanation is just so much crap.
Take a look at the video footage; those people who fought the cops in front of the Devonshire in ‘66 were not poor, disadvantaged or oppressed. The louts of ’94 look pretty well-dressed and well-fed to me (and to anybody else who bothers to notice.) And this latest bunch of malcontents were mostly sporting official Canucks jerseys and recording their activities on smartphones (both expensive items.) The evidence shows that the clearly advantaged youth of Vancouver do not respect their city and never have. Three generations is not a coincidence.
None of this will be brought forward in any of the immediate inquiries. They’ll round up the usual suspects: “our consumer society” and “disaffected youth.” The police will take a couple more kicks in the stomach and the world will continue. Just as an aside (if you think the cops are to blame) some Saturday afternoon when you’ve got nothing happening go try and subdue a vicious drunk when he’s got ten drunken friends egging him on. Give it a shot; see how you make out. My point is we’re not going to address the problem, just like we didn’t last time or the time before that. We’re going to theorize and chatter about those “bad apples” again, lose some more of our ability to spontaneously enjoy our city, and carry on.
This is the reality. We — all of us in Vancouver — have built a culture that promotes an unhealthy disrespect for the institutions of our city. Here are a couple of items: one is small but significant; the other is very large indeed. On Wednesday night, many members of the media referred to the rioters as “protesters.” That was their reference point. They weren’t vandals, arsonists, looters or criminals. They were protesters — because we equate protest with unruly and destructive behaviour. Legitimate protesters are permitted to cause damage and break things; it’s acceptable to us. It’s the way we think. Those people kicking in store windows have the same attitude. Secondly (and this is huge) despite the assurances of the Mayor and the Premier, nobody in this city believes any of the rioters will be brought to justice. If (by some miracle) a few do get caught, Vancouver has whole office buildings full of lawyers who thrive on this kind of thing. After three generations of riots, I’ll bet you dollars to dead penguins nobody in this town knows anybody who’s ever gone to jail for their antisocial actions — or even had to pay for the damage they caused. Those young people who turned us all into international idiots the other night know perfectly well they aren’t going to be held accountable. Again, it’s the way we think.
Vancouver is ashamed of itself — and we should be — no amount of feel-good stories are going to change that. But until ordinary people change their attitude, we have nothing to be proud of.