So, what is wrong with this picture? We could start with the fact that it is a depiction of the flagrant destruction of public property in the form of a police cruiser. Then, we could point out the not-so-subtle spitting in the face of the rule of law, and the authority that, although not without its own issues and problems, attempts to keep order in a society where the majority prefer safety, respect, and common courtesy over chaos, anarchy, and criminal activity. Lastly, we could point out that this is not some flash point on the global front pages showing unrest in the Middle East, North Africa, or Asia. This is my home, Vancouver, Canada.
How do we, as citizens of Vancouver, explain what happened on June 15, 2011 to the world’s most livable city, according to The Economist magazine? A little over one week ago, after the Vancouver Canucks lost the decisive seventh game in the Stanley Cup championship final – ice hockey’s Holy Grail – the city’s 100,000 strong street party turned into a riot.
The response from the citizenry was immediate. Disappointment, embarrassment, and anger were common sentiments. Fingers began pointing almost immediately as the blame was laid squarely on a small minority of hooligans, anarchists intent on trashing and burning regardless of the outcome in the game. The government, police, and even the CBC, the nation’s broadcaster and original host of the outdoor gathering, were also held partly responsible by some. And then, an unprecedented social media backlash began by exposing the perpetrators of the civil disobedience, the vandalism, and the looting through the posting of video and photographic records. Contrary to popular belief, a belief initially voiced by the police, government, and broadcast by media, many of the culprits ended up being very average adult citizens, albeit of the young variety.
I know I must sound like my parents when I say the extent of the destruction; the wanton disregard for property, respect, and common courtesy leaves me scratching my head, and searching for answers. Sure, I was taught to obey traffic signs, be kind to strangers, and not litter. But, what is hidden deep within the human psyche that would allow a group of people, however small or large, to seemingly toss away a society’s professed values as if it were an empty drink can?
The experts are already in deep discussion over so-called “mob mentality”, and the connection to an under-developed prefrontal cortex of the brain, and its inability to manage critical and rational thought, as well as action, in a “schooling” scenario. No doubt, the causes, and responsibility for the 2011 Vancouver riot will be debated for quite some time, and the feelings, for many of us, will remain raw.
I think back to the democracy protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo, to the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and to the current protests in Syria and I am left with a feeling of emptiness. Personally, I feel not only embarrassment, but also shame; shame at the fact that all which transpired that night in my city, my home, was for no good, or rational purpose. Not only can it never be justified in my eyes. But, this stupid act of civil disobedience serves to cheapen the efforts of everyone around the world who really has something to protest and fight against.
In a global sense, it was an example of the privileged few rioting when given the opportunity, versus the world’s disenfranchised protesting to gain it. It was the irony of looting when having everything, versus not looting when left with nothing. Perhaps the rioters, those who were just caught up in the excitement, and those who otherwise embarked on acts of destruction that were entirely out of character, should think about that. And perhaps those same people should not only apologize to friends, family, and our city, as some have already done, but also apologize to the global community for their role in contributing to a world seemingly out of balance.
To all those Vancouver citizens who showed up the next morning to help clean up the mess, and shared your voice through written sentiments on boarded up windows, and even police cruisers ticketed with post-it notes, thank you.
To the people of the world who gather together in the hopes of bettering their lives, and the lives of their neighbours; to all those who seek freedom and true democracy; to those who yearn for equality, and who risk non-violent protest at the expense of their own safety, and perhaps life, I would like to say I am sorry for cheapening your sacrifice.