They were mostly young. They were mostly male. They were mostly white.
I don't know what that means, but it means something.
I am devastated. I was in the CBC Fan Zone yesterday afternoon, with The Imp. We've been there for the beginning of every game since they started screening them for the public. "We go to the hockey party!" exclaimed The Imp, every time the Canucks played. Without fail, it was a great experience. Face painting, "Go Canucks Go" signs; fans gathered peacefully to cheer on their team, celebrate their victories, and commiserate when they lost. Beach balls were batted around by the crowds. One afternoon, three separate groups of people noticed that The Imp was desperate to have a turn with the ball, and in front of my eyes, they conspired to make it happen, getting the ball to him so he could bat it back into the crowd. There were countless families there. Canucks fandom seemed to know no age, race, or ethnicity. The enthusiastic singing of O Canada before every game was deafeningly awesome - my voice and The Imp's added lustily into the mix.
|The CBC Fan Zone in happier times|
We'd watch the opening face-off, the first few minutes of the game, and then make our way, through happy crowds, home for dinner.
Yesterday started out the same. I picked him up early at daycare, we made our way to the fan zone at Robson and Hamilton, and found a patch of pavement to call our own.
But the energy was different yesterday. The makeup of the crowd skewed to young, male, and drunk. I posted on twitter:
"In the #fanzone. Most packed I've ever seen it. The Imp insisted he wanted to be here; I'll be surprised if he makes it to game time. #loud"
I saw an almost-fistfight when a security guard made a simple request of fans to sit down before the game even started. People were on edge.
I wanted to leave right then and there. The Imp wanted to stay. I convinced myself it was a one-off, that people would settle in as the game began and there was a focus for all the pent-up nervous energy. After all, it had been fun every other time.
The anthems were sung. It was loud, but somehow it wasn't the same.
The puck dropped. The game began. The energy in the crowd was intense.
My gut told me it was time to leave. The Imp insisted he wanted to stay. I fought an internal battle. "This could be one of The Imp's earliest memories; watching his beloved Canucks win the Cup!" vs "This crowd makes me anxious. This could get ugly."
I followed my gut; we left halfway through the first period, after the Bruins had drawn first blood. Once home, I tweeted:
"Home. Fan zone vibe: sketchy. Everyone's wearing a jersey, but spider senses tell me the Ed Hardy factor approaches critical mass."
You know the rest. The Canucks lost. The city erupted in violence.
I am heartbroken. And I am angry.
I love living downtown. I've enjoyed the variety and diversity of urban life. I've loved raising The Imp so that he doesn't blink when he sees a same-sex couple, he's not thrown by different languages being spoken around him, and he's accustomed to lots of different skin colours in his world.
And I've felt safe here. The tremendous success and happy shiny feelings about the Olympics showed, I thought, that Vancouver had grown up. A cosmopolitan city, it could handle huge crowds and public celebrations.
I'm absolutely heartsick at how wrong I was, how wrong everyone I know was, and how wrong, it seems, the authorities were about what would happen if and when the Canucks lost.
I hate the fear I feel now. I'm angry because I will now never quite feel safe in a Vancouver crowd again. The Celebration of Light takes place right on my doorstep every summer. A few hundred thousand people crowd into my neighbourhood to watch the fireworks, and I will never feel comfortable taking The Imp out into that crowd again. The veneer of civility is too thin. I'm angry that I can't unsee that now.
And I'm angry that I can't unsee the images of people wantonly destroying my neighbourhood. Setting cars on fire, breaking windows, and looting? Who does that?
I don't understand the people who do that. I just don't. And I don't believe it had anything to do with hockey. I saw footage of a person using a hammer to break the windows of a bank. Who brings a hammer to watch a hockey game? Who comes to a hockey party with gasoline to set things on fire? Who brings a baseball bat to a hockey game, just in case they feel like breaking the windows of an SUV parked blocks away from the arena? People were throwing bricks through store windows. Where are they getting bricks in a city built of concrete? Who brings bricks to a hockey game?
There was premeditation involved here. The loss of the game was just a pretext; the spark that lit a fire long set and stoked.
It's no secret that I am warm and fuzzy about social media. I blog, I'm on flickr, I'm on youtube, I'm on facebook, linkedin, listgeeks, pinterest, and twitter. I've met people I adore through social media. I've learned a tremendous amount, and I've benefited hugely, both personally and professionally, from the connections I've made online. I've been a huge cheerleader in my social circle for the benefits of social media. I love that everyone has a voice, everyone has the opportunity for community, and we become our own content generators and media channels.
Maybe I've been naive, but last night I saw a side of social media I hadn't even known existed.
The violence, the destruction, those were the acts of relatively few people. Out of 100,000, there were maybe a few hundred actively involved in creating the mayhem. But there were thousands of people standing by, watching. Taking pictures to post on facebook. Chanting, clapping, and posing in front of burning cars only feet away, high fiving each other. Jeering and leering gleefully at the damage being done, at the taunting of riot police. Thousands of people who chose not to go home, but to stand by and watch, and laugh at the spectacle. And tweet about it.
For these people, the (in this case mostly young, predominantly male) milling about observers and inciters, is nothing real until it's been on a screen? And being on a screen, is it then not real, but spectacle? Have they been so desensitized to violence that when they see it right in front of them, it's entertainment?
Over and over again, news cameras caught thousands of people taking pictures, getting in the way of emergency responders, making it harder to defuse the madness. There was a self-consciousness to it: I saw people running from looted stores, one hand full of stolen merchandise, the other with a camera phone on, recording the whole thing to relive later on youtube.
Is this online space, where I have found education, community, and solidarity, the same space inhabited by people who actually tag themselves on facebook committing criminal acts?
My son is a digital native, growing up in a post-facebook world. The mere act of me writing this blog is creating a digital footprint for him before he even has a say in what gets shared. His generation will never experience our antiquated concepts of privacy.
How do I raise him, in this oversharey, tweet-happy environment? How do I make sure this lovely little boy, who loves the Canucks as only a three year old can, doesn't become one of these young men, completely unconcerned, gleeful even, about being caught on camera in this appalling behaviour?
The Imp went to sleep last night as the madness was descending. He missed it all - saw no footage, no photos. I've kept it that way this morning. He's staying home from daycare today because I am not prepared to answer his questions. His daycare is in the immediate vicinity of where the violence started last night. The Imp's uncannily observant; he sees everything. He asks questions about everything. And I don't know what to tell a three year old about broken glass on the sidewalk, boarded up windows, and burn marks on the pavement. So I'm postponing the discussion; opting out for 24 hours to sort out my own conflicted feelings and to try and figure out what a three year old needs to know.
But I do know this: "We have met the enemy and he is us."