The day after the riot I wanted to go downtown and help with the cleanup. But a lot of people had the same idea and got up a lot earlier than I did. By 8 or 9am they were already asking people not to come – they had more help than they could handle.
I had to work that day, and the next, but on Saturday I made the trip back.
It was almost 3 days since I got off the bus to cover the game. The crowds were long gone. It was hard to believe that some of the places I passed through now had been so packed with people I could barely squeeze between them.
The damaged monitor where the first signs of trouble appeared had been taken down. The post office, where the first car was set on fire (that I was aware of) was unblemished other than a stain left on the ground.
I decided to retrace my steps. There was an eerie unreality to it. I went to the concrete stand where the two young men from Ireland had helped me up to get a better view…
…Looked across where just a few days earlier a man had stood on an overturned porta potty waving a Canadian flag.
…Where a woman whose child had almost been hurt yelled at the man responsible.
…Where the police had formed up, and the chant of “Fuck Boston” became a battle rally.
It was almost eerily quiet. Everyone just went about their business. Aside from the broken windows you’d never know anything had happened here.
But those broken windows had no intention of letting you forget.
“Why?” says one in huge letters. It’s the feeling I had in my gut that whole night.
But the boards – heck, by now they can be called murals – don’t dwell on sadness for the most part. Despair is greatly overshadowed by hope and an in-your-face attitude message for the rioters.
The largest mural was of course at the Hudson Bay, which had suffered the most damage.
The photographers were everywhere again. This time trying to capture something positive. I wonder how many had been here that night, looking around and still not quite believing it actually happened.
Running out of room on the walls, messages found their way elsewhere. In response to the number of police cars destroyed in the riot, one had been turned into a shrine, covered in post-it notes of support, flags, and flowers.
When they ran out of room on the window murals, strings of messages were hung from the overhang where three days earlier drunk fools paraded on top of, thinking themselves rebels or heroes.
I’ve heard a lot of calls to punish these people. But I can’t help but think there is an opportunity for something more than just retribution.
For the instigators there should be nothing less than jail time – the maximum the law allows. The rioters swept up into this are sad, but those who came here deliberately planning it are evil, because they knew full well people could have died as a result of their actions. It’s a miracle more people weren’t hurt, no thanks to them.
I don’t care what these people’s motives were – maybe they just can’t get it up any other way. They want to rattle people, somehow believing if it happens enough we will sit up and listen. Listen to what? We don’t just live in houses, we live in communities. For the people of Vancouver, Granville is as much a part of their homes as their own living room.
You just trashed our living room. We will never listen to you.
They will never feel guilty for what they did. Let the police find them. Let the justice system punish them. Let the population ignore them and not give them the attention – the identity – they’re looking for.
But those who got caught up in the moment, drunk or otherwise, need to be approached with a different tact. These are the people who woke up the next day thinking “Oh God, did I really do that?” and quickly tried to remove their Facebook pictures and YouTube videos and are praying the police won’t knock on their doors. (They will.)
For these people, it’s human nature to become defensive. To justify, rationalize, or otherwise shift blame away from themselves. They’re not completely wrong.
Fact is, you were used, chumps and chumpettes. You were played like Nero’s fiddle and left behind to feel the heat. You think those who planned on stirring things up care what happens to you? You think they let their faces get caught on camera as easily as you did? They counted on you not to think, just to react. And for that you are to blame. 100%. You didn’t think.
Doesn’t that make you mad?
If you’re lucky, you feel like crap about what you did. Congratulations, you’re not a complete waste of skin. If you get caught, take your lumps and don’t whine about it not being your fault. Better yet, turn yourself in. Make amends. Accept responsibility.
But if you want forgiveness, if you want absolution, the next time something like this happens – YOU have to be the first in line to stop it. When you see someone else making a stand, YOU be the first to join him or her, and encourage your friends to join you.
Think. Don’t be a chump. Don’t let the groupthink dictate your actions.
But Vancouver is healing faster than you might expect. Riot fatigue set in quickly here. Rather than look for endless replay and analysis of the night like some kind of reality TV show, the people of Vancouver aren’t letting Wednesday night interfere with their lives any more than they have to.
Nowhere was this attitude displayed better than by what I came across at the Vancouver Public Library, right at the heart of where the riot started.
This is Vancouver.