In the aftermath of Monday night’s Habs riot, pundits from all across the punditosphere are giving their two cents about the situation, half based on what they saw on the TV, and most writing from their gut instead of their heads.
As someone who was there, allow me to shine some light on the inaccurate impressions some of these newspaper columnists and radio hosts might be giving you:
Myth: Real fans don’t riot
Reality: Says who? I don’t see anything in the definition of “fan” that precludes such activity. Plenty of pundits are suggesting that the looters wouldn’t know Kostitsyn from Kovalev, but they have no evidence to back up that assertion. The pictures show plenty of the people involved were wearing Habs jerseys and/or carrying Habs flags.
Myth: The police stood by and did nothing while downtown was destroyed
Reality: The police were caught off-guard (as were, I might add, most news outlets who wrapped up their celebration coverage at 10:30). When the crowd got too big to control, riot police were quickly shuttled to where they were needed and chased down rioters as if they were invading a country. The fact that nobody got seriously hurt should be testament to the fact that the police succeeded in their first priority: safeguarding the lives of citizens. They also did the best they could to protect stores from looting, even to the point of standing guard outside throughout the night.
And just what was the alternative? Should they have started firing into the crowd? Filled downtown with pepper spray to the point where no one (not even the cops themselves) would be able to breathe? Should they have spread out and put their individual lives in danger just to protect their squad cars?
Myth: The destruction was done by only a handful of troublemakers
Reality: Five police cars were torched simultaneously over a span of half a dozen blocks. Members of the crowd chipped in when it became clear the mob was in control and nobody would punish them for wanton acts of vandalism. Dozens of people threw glass bottles high into the air, with the intent to injure others. This wasn’t a few isolated cases, this was a mob.
Myth: It’s those crazy leftist activists who were torching police cars
Reality: Again, no evidence of this whatsoever. Some people involved were clearly homeless. Some obviously had a lot of money to waste. You can’t blame this on one identifiable group.
Myth: Most of the crowd were innocent bystanders there to celebrate their team and looked upon the looting/vandalism with disgust
Reality: There are no innocent bystanders (except the media, I hope). Even those who didn’t touch a thing cheered when vehicles looked on the edge of toppling. Others took pictures and video with their cellphones, posting the crappy, highly-compressed, badly-framed, five-second clips of nothing on YouTube with a bunch of exclamation marks noting how awesome it was. All provided a barrier between police looking to make arrests and those who needed to be arrested.
Just because they didn’t do anything doesn’t mean they didn’t contribute to the situation.
Myth: Montreal hockey fans are normally classy people
Reality: You’re kidding me, right? Have you ever been to the Bell Centre?
Myth: Had the police been more forceful, it would have taught people a lesson and the damage would have been minimized
Reality: The opposite would have happened. An arrest outside a shoe store on Ste. Catherine Street forced police to use pepper spray because they were quickly surrounded by angry fans crying police brutality. Never mind the fact that the guy they were arresting was doing everything in his power to resist them and injure them. Every action by police was met with an antagonistic response.
Myth: Closing Ste. Catherine Street will solve this problem next time
Reality: People will just find other places to congregate. René-Lévesque Blvd., St. Laurent, St. Denis, Sherbrooke Street. There are plenty of places. And closing a street will only work if you have the manpower to back it up. Literally putting police officers on every corner of a metropolis isn’t a simple task.
Myth: Once they look at the videos and pictures, police will be able to arrest everyone involved
Reality: Most of those pictures and videos are of such poor quality you couldn’t make out the face of your own mother on them. Even if they do have faces, they have to be identified, which means someone who knows the person has to come forward and rat them out. Then, assuming a positive identification is made, police have to prove that the person actually caused significant damage. Photos might show them kicking a police car, but few capture the more serious acts of vandalism. And those whose actions were minor will get very minor sentences, assuming they are even prosecuted.
Myth: These actions were planned and carefully orchestrated by the vandals
Reality: There’s no evidence of this, and it doesn’t meet with the facts. People didn’t “carry around jugs of gasoline” or Molotov cocktails, they set fire to pieces of cardboard they found laying around. They threw garbage (and garbage cans) they found on the street. It was entirely improvised. People did these things because those around them did too. That’s the power of the mob.
Myth: They just did this so they could post videos on YouTube
Reality: Not once did I see anyone commit an act of vandalism and ask someone to film it. Vandalism was done for its own sake. It was the bystanders who took pictures of the carnage and of themselves standing in front of it.