Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vancouver riots as Stanley Cup goes to Boston

Many many people said there would be a riot but a few of us, myself included, based on the experience of the Olympics and the policing there thought that the riotous scenes of 1994 wouldn't be repeated.

Wrong. The lid blew off the pressure cooker. Cycling round the turmoil of downtown Vancouver and witnessing the destruction, as well as the good cop bad cop routines of the Vancouver Police Department and the completely chaotic crowd control measures it really became apparent that this was always how it was going to be.

Even if Vancouver had won the last game on home ice a riot might still have been the outcome. The mess downtown as a result of the riot is being viewed as a black eye for Vancouver. That's what you are going to read in the mainstream media and hear on the CBC for weeks, even years to come. What they won't mention is that Vancouver wears a black eye everyday, and has done for years - that became apparent to overseas media when they saw the poverty in this city during the Olympics.

Many of you might be thinking this opinion is an attempt to shift the blame from the rioters to the authorities. In part it is. Watching smart cars get overturned brings me to the conclusion that a lot of people just weren't thinking about their acts of vandalism. Then there were the overturned portapotties. Hey guys think about the salmon! Then there was the smashed windows of Canada Post. Canada Post who this week locked out postal workers across the country. Two acts of stupidity and one act of strategic direct action. It's difficult to know if that really is the case. But then this was a riot. The motivations of people were not clear.

The CBC, in particular Radio One, has been building up the event, and running with the Stanley Cup fever for weeks. Of course they were tapping into the buzz of the city but they also became part of that buzz and helped to keep it going. The crowds outside the CBC centre on Hamilton grew from a few hundred a few weeks back when Vancouver eliminated San Jose to tens and tens of thousands yesterday. The crowd may have been one hundred thousand strong at the start of the game. It certainly was impressive to look down from the Vancouver public library to see the crowds of hockey fans adorned in blue stretching back along Georgia past Homer to the next intersection. An impromptu singing of Oh Canada following both playings of the national anthems at Rogers Arena was impressive.

From that point on though it felt like the downtown core, the library included, was under siege. It was like a fireworks crowd with no beach to go to, no fireworks to view. One media report said that the destruction on Georgia at the Canada Post building started right as the game ended. The plume of thinly streaming smog-like looking smoke could been seen as far as Dunsmuir.

Three things contributed to the chaos; the anticipation created by the play-off nature of the Stanley Cup, the absence of a large downtown space for people to celebrate a win or loss and the response of the Vancouver Police. The art gallery was cleared of people dancing on the steps by riot police. There was no smashing windows there, no looting, just people dancing, smiling, waving Canucks flags and having a party. The riot police treated this crowd just the same as the people looting on Granville and the people rioting on Georgia. The police are completely out of touch with the average person in the city. It's not the fault of the rank and file police officer. The powers that be got it spectacularly wrong. Very early in the night police put on riot gear. Big mistake. They did this just west of Granville in full view of the then partying crowd. Children with parents watched eagerly. The police attempts to 'look' and 'sound' tough didn't and don't work. Could they not have donned their riot gear more discretely and then gave the vandals a real surprise. No, this is of course, not how Vancouver polices. You only have to think of the police car parked across the bike lanes when police make their presence known at Pigeon Park, or the bus lanes anywhere in the city as officers stand around a handcuffed individual sitting on the ground.

These are the things you won't hear about in the mainstream media. These are things that people know and see for themselves. We forget about it, we walk past it and try to get on with life despite the contradictions in thinking that this type of policing provokes.

A riot in Vancouver post Canucks defeat. Won't happen. But it did and when all is considered it's not surprising. It wasn't a political riot as some are bemoaning but you know in some ways it was. Big name stores were attacked and looted including Louis Vuitton while eateries kept their doors open and did a brisk trade. It was reminiscent of the large manifestations at a typical G8 or G20. The small store owners fed the people and the corporate commercial giants got ransacked.

There were more onlookers than looters and more people than police. The latter being the reason that people wouldn't go home and that the "Attention Attention - leave the area or risk arrest" announcements were completely ignored. This for the most part wasn't a crowd of rioters. The people causing the destruction of cars and looting stores were a small number. But the people wanting to party and celebrate the achievement of going to game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final were many. The demand of the Vancouver Police in telling people to go home - ridiculous.

Based on last night many will be hoping it's another 17 years before the Vancouver Canucks makes the Stanley Cup Final. Our media, the policing and our city will have changed dramatically again as it has done since 1994. Yet we'll probably still have a corporate media toying with Vancouverites love of hockey, we'll still have a police department that's insensitive to the people it's meant to serve, and we'll still have no real public squares - and those that we do have will be cleared by riot cops. We could of course try to sign Tim Thomas.

No comments: