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Vancouver Hockey Riots

“It's only a small group of anarchists that caused the riot,” said many pundits to explain what happened after Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final in Vancouver. “True Vancouver Canuck fans would never do such a thing to their city.” Let's look a little deeper at these statements.

Regardless of how well the police planned and executed their plans, they were cast into a no-win situation. If they had waited until they were 100% sure a little vandalism had escalated into a full blown riot, they would have been chastised for moving too slow. If they had taken strong action immediately after the first broken window, they would have been chastised for coming in too early, only wrecking the party for the many “good” fans attending the event. Each riot has its dynamics that are difficult to plan for and require minute-by-minute decisions with imperfect information. These decisions can be challenged as police incompetence after the fact. When police have to walk a fine line between letting people have a good time and suppressing the conditions for a riot to erupt, they will not always make the right calls. Despite being placed into this situation, the police will shoulder a lot of the blame, officially or unofficially.

None of the blame will ever be cast on the many “good” fans who stayed on the streets long after it was apparent a riot was in full swing. These onlookers will claim that because they themselves were not engaging in any criminal activity, they had no reason to leave. They will prove their value by the many pictures and videos they gave to police to eventually find and prosecute the true anarchists. A few will be lauded as heroes as they foolishly tried to protect property in the midst of the chaos, supposedly doing the job the police should have been doing.

What many pundits of the riots have failed to mention is that most police forces don't like to send its members into hostile situations where they can be easily hurt or killed. By experience, police forces have learned when it is more important to wait for sufficient backup before becoming involved. To confront rioters, police need to work together, both as large ground units and as coordinators moving these units based on limited and ever-changing information. No small group of officers is allowed to break ranks just because they see an obvious criminal activity taking place.

This leaves the responsibility of the “good” Vancouver Canuck fan attending the riot areas—who had the fortitude not to get involved in the vandalism and looting. In a riot crowd, onlookers and anarchists look the same to police. But, if these fans were indeed more numerous than the anarchists, the police could have easily subdued the anarchists if the onlookers had vacated the area at the first sign of trouble. Instead the onlookers stayed, being thoroughly entertained by their front row seat of history being made. The onlookers' presence gave the anarchists and their new converts the necessary shield to be totally lawless for a few hours. While the anarchists are learning how to manipulate crowds better, society is still reluctant to chastise the onlookers for their irresponsibility of not moving away so the police could safely and efficiently do their job.

Copyright 2011 by Dave Volek

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© 2011 Dave Volek. All Rights Reserved.