Virtual Vancouver Hockey Riot is worse

In the wake of the Vancouver Canucks 2011 failure to capture the Stanley Cup, this Lotusland jewel of a city broke out in violent riots. Before the dust had even settled, the finger-pointing was well underway. It is disappointing, given how at the ready that the excuse and blame were, that there seems to have been little forethought and consideration to prevent riots and to disperse the crowd and whatever pent up emotions that were so obviously going to be vented no matter which way the game ended up.

The last run up to the cup was 1994 and fans mobbed some parts of the city so solidly that taxis would advise people to walk rather than attempt to drive into these areas. It certainly wasn’t a good night for me to have decided to meet a friend for a midnight showing of Caligula – or maybe it was fitting – the excess of emotions and the chaotic indulgence of baser instinct rampant on the street and the silver screen.

On the final play off day, my spouse who works 2 blocks from our parkade and near to the game site took almost 45 minutes to reach the lot, while I, coming from 8 blocks in the other direction, had no difficulty until the actual parkade block in reaching the car in a fairly timely 15 minutes. It’s a terrible thing when claustrophobia hits you in the open air.

The earlier games days saw the streets crammed with people milling around, but the final game day had the crowds milling by noon and chanting so loud by 2 that it was disruptive to office staffs – many offices and businesses simply caved in and closed. Very few actually put up plywood sheets to cover their windows, although, storefronts with bars behind the glass did tend to survive the building riot.

By 4:30, people were already deep into their liquor and alcohol was being openly consumed on the street and carried around. The police thought to close the liquor stores, but they would have closed anyway, given the run on morning sales. It was stressful to navigate our car out of the city, as we couldn’t relax until we were on the viaduct and beyond the stadiums line ups and mobs.

It was an ugly mood that we drove away from and we both hoped that the police and city had a plan to filter people leaving the bars and stadium and not let them build a critical mass that would result in an emotional venting and riot. With my own earlier experience in a mob fresh in mind because I had recently blogged it, I knew how seductive that group release could be. To just let go of yourself and not think about consequences, to just pound someone who is really begging for it.

Humans are not so far removed from our other primate cousins, and the display that a band of chimps will engage in to bluff an enemy band of chimps or other intruders, is not so different from a human mob riot. Emotions take over and cancel cognitive functions out. More than that, humans are included towards group herd and pack behaviors, we adapt to differing circumstances to conform to the current behavioral norms.

As if lemmings or schools of fish or flocks of birds, once the first lighter was lit, it was only going to take one tiny flame to ignite the mood into a citywide conflagration of primal behaviour to vent the collective displeasure at the loss or to vent the collective joy at having won. That there was going to be a riot was obvious.

So, the question remains, why did the city not have after game crowd controls to break up the mass of fans existing into more manageably sized groups filtering down streets and away from the core towards attractive sites for gather such as the city beaches or parks to contain the crowd and provide a focal point – like a fireworks show? Or have people remain in the stadium for an after game ice show? Anything to keep people acting within the social norms of being event participant spectators instead of having no focus and turning into the event spectacle?

Even a double line of buses to disperse people easily into containable units and away from each other and out of the city, at the very least a sobering reminder that it was time to go home to cry in their beer.

Being near a boisterous crowd, even a happy one, is enough to trigger fight or flight mechanism, and flight is less likely the option when you have the numbers of a crowd and a critical peak of emotion, hair trigger aching for release. The few people who managed to keep their wits and try to stop the crowd from either damaging property or looting or egging people onto those behaviors, ended up assaulted for their ability to retain their individual sense of morals and self. So, this would have been a trigger for anyone else who was holding back to either flee or join in, lest the same fate befall them.

I think that in many ways, work and school violence incidents are a microcosm of the riotous mob. When you are under on-going, escalating and unending pressure, with no relief or help or end in sight, your brain also kicks into survival fight or flight mode. After a time, your cognitive function decreases and your ability to reason, to make distinctions, to understand proportionality are all diminished. The world becomes reduced to a me or them, and with the numbers on the “their” side, it is understandable how a person can believe that the only way out is a final way out, but not alone, best to take your tormentors out with you – or as many as you can.

So while mobs of people will quickly ignite into violence, the sheer numbers work to compel mob members that the normal rules don’t apply, that might makes right, that the sheer numbers will mean any individual risk is spread across the group, and the resulting riot has an unreal feel to it, like you are watching yourself participate, because in a very real sense you are – you’ve put aside your individuality to be part of a stampeding herd or rampaging troop – knocking down and consuming any person foolish enough to resist or thing that happens to be in the way.

But individuals, once separated from the herd, return to their senses, much like the merchandise is slowly being returned to the stores, sheepish and apologetic.

What was different in the 2011 riot from the 1994 riot was the on-line social media – people are now so used to blogging, tweeting and otherwise taking it from the streets to the net, that the riot and it’s backlash in some ways are still virtually blazing. People are unwilling to let it go and move onto the next big thing or back to their lives.

I am more shocked by the on-line riot than the in-person one – what excuse does anyone have to post death threats against any other person for their participation – regardless of how outrageous their behavior was during the riot – there is no justification for individuals in the aftermath to be venting bigotry and threats against mob participants – the mob mentality is a mitigating factor to the riot behaviour in a way that sole indignation and self-righteousness is not a mitigating excuse for issuing death threats. Having a right to an opinion and the right to express it does not excuse the thug and criminal caliber of said opinion.

As a city, we need to pull together to get past this riot and learn from it and not have the matter worsened by armchair judge, jury and executioners who are continuing to behave as if they are in the middle of the riot and not back in normal rules apply society.

The city could have done a better job, the crowds could have better planned for the night to make a getaway post game to celebrate or console themselves, but the city hoped for the best and after the Olympics, they had reason to believe that the city was mature enough to handle a hockey event.

But there is no excuse for the reprehensible behavior of the on-line riot, which exceeds even the rude and rough n tumble norms that that internet anonymity usually affords individuals to behave in a manner that they would not to another person’s face.

On line behaviour is not ruled or driven by mob behaviour, so perhaps before they condemn what other people did en masse, they should consider what they are doing all on their own.