16 June 2011

Things That Make Me Angry

I live in downtown Vancouver. Every day, I cycle the bike paths, walk the streets, and shop in the stores that made headlines and breaking news all over the world last night, as hooligans destroyed my city.

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.

Not so.

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."


  1. Thank you, Alexis, for sharing your thoughts so articulately.

    I was at the game last night, and was disgusted by the behaviour of some of the so-called "fans" in the arena. Who punches someone because they might have accidentally taken his girlfriend's playoff towel? Who yells "F@ck you, Boston" at a group of perfectly well-behaved Bruins fans, including an adorable little girl wearing a bear hat (who turned out to be the daughter of one of the players)? Who throws bottles at the heads of the Stanley Cup Champions (regardless of who they are) as they hoist the Cup? Even though the Canucks lost, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the Stanley Cup presented right in front of you, and last night I was (perhaps selfishly) angry and disappointed that a few bad fans tarnished that moment.

    And then I left Rogers Arena, and realized that this had nothing whatsoever to do with hockey. Thanks to Twitter, I knew enough to avoid the downtown core and got myself home as quickly as I could. I watched on TV as a mix of hooligans and "regular" people tore up my city. I felt sick to my stomach, and kept saying out loud to no one in particular, "Why are all those people just standing there? Either do something to stop it, or go the f@ck home... Why? Why?"

    Yesterday before the game, I jokingly made a comment that I was suspicious of anyone *not* wearing a Canucks jersey. Today, I was suspicious of EVERYONE. While walking around UBC today, I found myself looking at students and thinking "Were they one of the rioters? Does he look guilty or remorseful?" While riding the Canada Line home, I wondered how much (how little?) it would take for the passengers to start acting like those crowds last night? I hate that last night's events have me shaken and distrustful.

    And, like you, I also thought about the Celebration of Light fireworks and that I probably won't want to attend this year -- which just makes me angrier because why should we have to give up these experiences in order to feel safe?

    I hope with time the fear dissipates and the city can return to normal. Seeing so many Vancouverites band together today to clean up some of the damage helps, but I'm just petty enough to want to see more of the car-burning, window-smashing, store-looting assholes publicly identified and punished with more than a slap on the wrist. Consider it part of the healing process.

  2. The social media aspect of this is fascinating. And I think it demonstrates more than anything else that it's not good and not bad, it just is. Yes, people hanging around taking pictures caused problems, but now it's actively part of the solution (in terms of identifying rioters). It helped organize a clean-up, and helped get information out there. Just like that hammer that can build a house or break a bank windows.

    Great post.

  3. I think everyone is struggling with these sorts of thoughts. I won't repeat what you've so eloquently said here.

    However, I'm more than a little dismayed by the effect that these events have on the "public". We can count the number of times there's been trouble on one hand. How many Symphonies of Fire have there been? How many Fan Zones without any problem? I think that for Vancouver to *continue* to develop a sense of community, a sense of camaraderie, it NEEDS big events like this. It NEEDS people to get together, have fun, see that they're not really that different than their neighbours. We cannot close up, stay at home, and hide. That will surely just undo everything that Vancouver has been building over the past few decades. We cannot let a handful of assholes ruin that for the whole city.


  4. I just finished my thoughts on this too. And the social media aspect was the most powerful....we saw the good and bad of social media.....a harsh lesson for sure....and seeing my son shaken not by what he saw, but what he sensed...the hostility, the anger and rage....

  5. My dear friend was in the media box at Rogers Arena at Game 7. She won the tickets from her office. When 2nd period ended, word hit that the crowds outside were already fird up. Hen game ended and post conferences were done they were on lock down and escorted out slowly.
    I am relieved that my girls are too young to know really happened. When I saw images on the computer my DD4 asked why they were so angry. I shook my head and said I don't know.
    In the of today we saw the volunteers cleaning up the streets I used to walk to work.
    Then I heard an aquaintance had to turn in her son after seeing him on the news. She knew she had to look after her younger children. Her son was arrested at school. A good prospect to have a good life ruined. Every interview he has the photos will show.
    I focus on today and the wonderful Vancouver we know. The hooligans in gneral were not from Vancouver..

  6. I have been reading, and writing and ruminating, and while I haven't come up with anything diffinitive, I am choosing to be the people who clean up and love this city. I choose to be part of the positiveness that come out after a tragedy. I think maybe that is the best thing we can do.

    PS: I link this in a new post on my blog. http://leftcoastmama.net/2011/06/17/what-bothers-me-most-about-the-vancouver-riots/

  7. Excellent post. It was a terrible day and we will analyze it to death for years to come. I really think they need to nix the Fanzones next time around. It was basically inviting a massive drunken crowd to come downtown. I'm all for public gatherings for free concerts in the park or other family activities but no city in the world hosts Fanzones of this scale to watch emotionally charged sporting events in the street. Especially deciding games. We were trying too hard to relive the Olympics but without the Olympic security.

  8. Great post. When you think about it personally as a resident of a comunity, it's particularly disheartening.

    Now that we see how normal many of the perpetraters were (the kid from BBY, the waterpolo star from Maple Ridge. We want to point fingers at "the other" and blame THEM. I think it behooves us to realize that everyone has a potential to become unhinged, and we need to protect ourselves from allowing this to happen. I learned to read the crowd (which you obviously did) when I was in India and avoid large moving crowds. The mob has its own M.O.; it operates outside the norms of a civil society. "Normal" kids get swept up in the animalistic, primal drives of the mob.

    Add the social media aspect of 1000s of photographers (not just perpetrators but people like you and me) not leaving the downtown area because they wanted to document the proceedings, and you have a situation where the media/SM turned in on its self ceasing to be useful. All those crazed participants performing for the media in a bubble of "invigorating" lawlessness.

    On a personal level, it made me think about my son and how he needs to be well warned and educated about crowds and how quickly they can turn and how to not get caught up in them.

  9. My heart still hurts. Even here in the suburbs, there was graffiti on my daughter's school on Thursday morning. Lewd graffiti, no less, with the words "Boston Blows". I'll be you can guess how much I didn't enjoy explaining THAT to my 6-year-old. :(

  10. Hi. A lot of people are feeling trepidation about big gatherings now. There's been lots of criticism about the wisdom of having a 100,000 person party downtown. But I grew up in Ottawa, where the Canada Day celebrations bring out at least that many people every year. It never feels ugly like the riot did (I went to gawk for a short time, the vibe was DARK). While no doubt there are some of young drunk men on the streets on Canada Day, they are far outnumbered by all the regular folks. It's not a booze-centric event. In my opinion THAT is why so many people got caught up in the moment at the riot. Hockey and booze go hand in hand, just look at which companies sponsor the games. The Festival of Light I suspect doesn't focus on it.
    So have no fear in the future. Hockey promotes aggression and drinking, most other celebrations do not.

  11. I am the most disturbed by the watchers. The video takers... thousands of them...
    I teach my kids about guilty by association. If you dont do something about what someone else is doing and you stick around you are guilty too-
    sadness here in Gibsons too-