- Vancouver, British Columbia - No doubt, you have heard about the rioting, looting, and civil disobedience that took place in my hometown, Vancouver, on Wednesday night. It was shocking to see the place that I've called home my entire life be denigraded into that of a third world war zone. I've spent so much of my life downtown, feeling safe and secure from any threat of assault. Vancouver, overall, is one of the safest cities I've ever been to, and I love it dearly. Thus when I see masses of people trashing it supposedly because the Canucks lost, I cannot help but feel like there must be something more here.
The first images of the riot showed one fan burning an "effigy" of a giant teddy bear (representing the Boston Bruins), followed by others holding signs saying "Riot 2011." Reports have also suggested that some vehicles were even brought downtown for the specific intend of flipping them over and setting them on fire. I'm not interested in debating whether these were true Vancouver Canucks hockey fans, or if they were true Vancouverites, other than to say this. The fact of the matter is that most of the rioters were wearing Canucks shirts and jerseys, and most of them seemed to identify themselves as if they were from Vancouver. We may not like the shameful behaviour of these hooligans who stirred up trouble and embarrassed the entire city, but we cannot simply dismiss these fools as being fake fans and fake Vancouverites. And what may have been started by a bunch of anarchists was picked up by Vancouverites and became their own. To blame the anarchists simply ignores the problem and one that looks to forever prevent us from uniting as a city downtown ever again to watch the Canucks in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Make no mistake, all of the other games that were watched downtown were executed to great success. Businesses enjoyed it and people loved the atmosphere. However, after the riots last night, we can almost forget about ever having this opportunity to celebrate together again.
The thing that I find most intriguing is asking what these rioters were hoping to accomplish? What were their motivations? Was it simply because their beloved team had failed yet again to bring home the championship? When you watch the videos and the news reports, anger was not always the emotion that was most readily visible in the faces of the rioters. In fact, many of them looked celebratory and were still chanting, "Go Canucks Go!" or more vulgarly, "Fuck Boston!" It makes me wonder, would the response have been much more peaceful had the Canucks even won the Stanley Cup?
It has been suggested that the riot was simply a result of a combination of alcohol and testosterone, but this doesn't satisfy me, as there were still many women present in the riots, plus on the live news feed, I saw both men flashing their genitals and women flashing their breasts, while standing on top of burning vehicles as if in victory. What was their victory? Their team lost! Men and women looted merchandise from stores like The Bay, London Drugs, Louis Vuitton, and Sears. Banks had their windows smashed by men and women. While men were in the majority, women were still present as spectators and rioters.
But what about adrenaline? The problem with blaming alcohol mixed with adrenaline is that adrenaline necessitates some initiating cause for a spike in the bloodstream. I cannot recall ever getting a spontaneous adrenaline rush. Was the Canucks' loss enough to cause an adrenaline rush? I would argue no.
Instead, what I believe we witnessed with the shameful events of the riots was a group of people who began with the intent to be a part of history. Everyone in Vancouver remembers the 1994 Stanley Cup riots, though I cannot think of a single person who was proud of them. Nonetheless, they have forever been ingrained in the memory of Vancouverites. I suspect that a group of individuals, who likely lead pathetic excuses for lives that will probably contribute very little good to the lives of others or society around them, saw this as a moment to do something memorable. They are the idiots who couldn't resist gaining the title as the guy who started the riot. And the worst part is that his friends probably are the type who would actually find this impressive instead of despicable, so rather than being turned in, he will likely be praised for his shenanigans.
I fear that today's generation, or my generation if you will, really has nothing going on for them. They spend much of their time playing video games, drinking 4-5 nights per week, getting plastered as often as possible, and getting doped up on any variety or combination of recreational substances. There is really very little that they are contributing to society, thus they have little to be proud of in their pathetic excuses for lives, so when an opportunity comes to make history by trashing their city and thus embarrassing all of us who are trying to lead respectable, contributing lives, they take advantage of it. And while I know that I live in a society that says it is not my right to tell someone else how to live their life, I have no problem saying that these types of people are the scum of Canadian society. They are the product of a society that rarely has the guts to stigmatize destructive behaviour. We will stigmatize the rioters, but not the lifestyle choices that brought them to be rioters. These rioters had little fear, as the truth is that most of them are likely to get off scot-free. Efforts are being made to identify the rioters by proud Vancouverites who are angry at what happened to their city at the hands of these fools, but it is a long shot that most will ever be identified, or charged, let alone convicted.
But what of all the spectators who stood by taking photos of the clashes with the police and the burning of cars? I suspect that many of them feel little remorse, because in their minds, they were not participants, but they truly were. Unless one was specifically taking photos for the purposes of identifying these hooligans later, then I believe that they contributed to the problem. They continued to watch all of the events as their Wednesday entertainment, and the best part for them was that it was completely free. And while they may have not thrown rocks at the police, or contributed to the burning cars and trash, they enabled and emboldened the rioters.
It has been demonstrated in numerous psychological studies that if an observer sees an attempted rape going on against a woman and the observer is alone, he is far more likely to intervene than if there is a crowd of people around him. The fact that no one else intervenes is a powerful manipulator of the person's reflection on whether to try to break up the rape. If no one else has the courage to try to save the woman, then maybe that person should have fear of doing so as well. In the same way, the crowd mentality emboldened rioters to act as they do. If all of these bystanders had simply gone home as police had repeatedly requested, rather than insisting upon waiting to see what would happen next, then the rioters would've been isolated and their risk of being apprehended would've been far greater and thus their boldness to taunt and attack the police would have correspondingly decreased. When you're a part of the Riot Police, you do not know who your friends are in the crowd, so the thought of making a charge at arresting someone amongst a crowd endangers yourself.
Also, I've seen footage of vigilantes who tried to defend their city from the rioters, but were then beaten. It is sickening. Yet, I saw some hope, as one such man was being beaten after trying to stop looting. He was being kicked repeatedly by the mob while he curled up in a defensive fetal position. Heroically, two individuals threw themselves into a mob of 8 attackers to cover up the victim until the mob left him alone. Afterward, they carried him away for medical assistance. Truly heroic stuff.
These individuals, however, who insisted upon watching the carnage contributed to this riot as much as the rioters themselves. If you stood by and did nothing to prevent it, you had no business being there unless you wanted the riot. Otherwise, you helped cause this riot to escalated and spiral out of control. But is the entertainment factor the only reason why these people continued to stay and watch? No, of course not. Like the rioters, they too wanted to be a part of history. They wanted to be able to say, "I was there" for the riots. Many of us want to witness important events. We want to tell our story and what we saw, because once you are an eyewitness, you suddenly become more interesting and your opinion is judged to be more valid than say me, who watched the game from the comfort of his own home and then witnessed the carnage on the television with disgust. Why else would millions of people flocked to the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama? They wanted to be there and witness a piece of history when the first African-American President was ushered into office. People never forget where they were for huge moments in history. I suspect that every Canadian knows where they were when the 2010 Winter Olympics Men's hockey team won the gold medal in Vancouver. For many Vancouverites, they proudly state that they were downtown for such a triumphant event in Canadian history. Me, I was in Dunkirk, France, in the Chinese language assistant's bedroom watching the game at near zero volume at 3AM. I will never forget that moment.
In the same way, the bystanders wanted to be able to say that they were there for the day Vancouver got trashed. They may say that they are disgusted by the behaviour of the rioters, but there is a part of them that is glad that they were there when it happened. The lust for being a part of something, whether it is a moment in history, or cheering for the winning team, is insatious for some. The sad thing is that with each of the images that I saw of bystanders, holding their cell phone cameras up to snap photos of the carnage, is that I could not feel depressed that so many in my generation today want to latch onto something that someone else is doing, while rarely possessing the courage and fortitude to do something truly revolutionary, or something that makes a lasting change.
A friend of mine asked the question, "Could you imagine if these rioters had the same passion to end poverty or the abuse of women?" Firstly, I hope rioting wouldn't be their choice of political action, but I get it. Rather than actually standing up for anything consequential, my generation satisfies itself in the events and causes that really demand little of them. Rather than risking defeat or disappointment, it is much easier to just smash windows while you anonymously wear bandanas, then go back to your normal life the next moment, feeling good about yourself for having done something that you won't ever forget.
Why are we like this? Why are so few courageous enough to do something that matters and is lasting? I feel like my conclusion should probably answer this, but I have no answer than that we are cowards who are too afraid of failing, then having to pick ourselves up off the floor of failure and try again later. What else could it be? Or is it simply apathy? If so, why are we apathetic? I do not know the answer to that question, but I'm not going to just blame the government.